When the Florida Gators opened their $85 million football complex last year, strength coach Mark Hocke said, the program lost “any and every excuse” about winning big.
The feeling has been similar in the week since Florida Victorious supplanted the Gator Collective as the UF’s main name, image and likeness (NIL) group. Just as the Heavener Football Training Center caught the Gators up in the facilities arms race, Florida Victorious should eliminate any and every excuse in the arms race of NIL.
“If Gator Collective was NIL 1.0, I think we’ve skipped 2.0,” athletic director Scott Stricklin said Monday evening in a Florida Victorious virtual townhall. “I think what they’re doing with Florida Victorious might be 3.0. It’s taking it to a different level.”
It had to.
Florida Victorious and UF officials have praised the Gator Collective as a starting point because it helped pioneer the crowdsourcing model that transformed the nascent name, image and likeness industry. But Stricklin said the old entity needed to evolve. That was clear to anyone who watched the multimillion-dollar deal fall through with prized recruit Jaden Rashada. Regardless of who you blame in the saga that cost the Gators a blue-chip quarterback signee, the program as a whole had to repair the damage.
“It just came down to trust,” Rashada said Saturday on the Barstool Sports podcast, “Bussin’ with the Boys.”
That trust was not going to come all the way back in the previous system. Maybe it will now with new leadership and a new organization.
In Monday’s townhall — an information session that doubled as a call to arms — the Gators cited other reasons why Florida Victorious can help make name, image and likeness a strength at Florida, the way coach Billy Napier has said it would be (or is).
A recent amendment to state law ended any competitive disadvantages (real or hypothetical) Florida teams faced. The fact that Stricklin and Napier both spoke at Monday’s event shows the necessary alignment between the Gators and this third-party group.
Stricklin touted Florida Victorious’ commitment with dedicated, full-time professionals, some of whom have previous experience in NIL or at UF’s athletic department. Founder and chairperson Jose Costa said NIL is a numbers game; with Florida’s large alumni size and massive fan base, the program has numbers required to succeed. Napier touted everything from checks and balances to the player experiences offered through community service to the minor detail of what he calls “very competitive compensation” being provided to athletes.
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Many in the industry (including Napier) expect college football to adopt a new financial system eventually so players get a direct slice of the revenue, once complexities like antitrust laws and collective bargaining are resolved. For now, though, the money flows through name, image and likeness, and Florida cannot afford to fail.
“It’s an opportunity for us to separate ourselves, let’s be honest here …” Napier said. “This is the next arms race. This is the next big thing relative to what you have to have in order to be competitive from a recruiting dynamic.
“We have the vehicle. Jose (Costa) has built the vehicle. Now it’s about Gator Nation getting behind it.”
The engine of Florida Victorious is firing up. And once that vehicle starts moving, any and every excuse about the Gators’ football fortunes should fade away in the rearview mirror.
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