Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Wisconsin’s NIL movement takes flight to support student athletes in navigating financial endeavors

Alumni created donor program allows UW student athletes to benefit from name, image, likeness
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 10, 2015; Lincoln, NE, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Bronson Koenig (24) drives between Nebraska Cornhuskers guard Shavon Shields (31) and guard Tai Webster (0) in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Wisconsin won 65-55. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this year, The Varsity Collective charitable fund was officially launched at a press conference in Madison. The Varsity Collective, a donor program created by University of Wisconsin alumni, has paved the way for Wisconsin student-athletes to maximize on financial benefit from their name, image and likeness.

According to The Varsity Collective’s website, the Collective helps bring together athletes with not only their local communities but also adds a professional brand connection to local institutions. 

NIL is a movement that allows athletes to receive compensation and increase their name value through brand deals and third-party endorsements. Athletes can earn money through social media influence, personal appearances and partnerships with an agent, among other things. The National Collegiate Athletic Association agreed to participate in the NIL movement July 1, 2021. This was a pivotal moment in collegiate athletics as the idea of athletes getting paid had been circulating considerably in recent years.


More recently, Wisconsin football players Graham Mertz and Braelon Allen each signed a deal with Pepsi. Johnny and Jordan Davis partnered with Mountain Dew earlier this year as well. While Johnny Davis is now in the NBA getting paid as a professional, Jordan Davis, Mertz and Allen will be able to increase their NIL profiles throughout their college careers and look to sign additional deals and agreements with other brands. 

The rules of NIL vary by school as each state can decide its laws detailing the rules for college athletes within that state. While states such as California and Florida capitalized on this movement almost immediately, the state of Wisconsin didn’t facilitate the institution until around the spring of 2022.

The Varsity Collective brands itself as the first NIL collective working on behalf of University of Wisconsin student-athletes. Executive chair of the Collective, Rob Master is a 1993 UW graduate. Master previously worked for a marketing and consumer goods company, Unilever. Unilever had multiple deals and agreements with the NCAA.

With this great experience and qualification, Master decided to lead and organize The Varsity Collective. According to The Athletic, Master believes that The Varsity Collective “has established positions Wisconsin and its athletes for long-term success.” He said the Collective will focus on providing meaningful experiences and supporting student athletes at Wisconsin as they navigate NIL opportunities.

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One successful subprogram at NIL is the YouDub program in partnership with OpenDorse  — a deal marketplace for student athletes to market their NIL value. YouDub supports “student-athlete assessment, education and brand development.” Director of NIL Strategy Brian Mason and Assistant Director of NIL Community Outreach Bianca Miceli were appointed by UW earlier this year to lead the YouDub program.

No dollar amount has been set for how much money will be provided to support the NIL movement. Still, the Collective offers many donation opportunities for anyone involved in the Badger community —  including fans, alumni and partnering sponsors.

In the first year of the NIL’s presence in the NCAA, the Big Ten led the way in total athlete compensation, having produced more money for athletes than any other conference in the country. Though Wisconsin was late to publicly announce and establish a NIL deal, the Varsity Collective has many aspects which make it unique and diverse compared to other organizations in the conference.

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A fundamental aspect of the collective is its commitment to offering equitable access of NIL support to all student-athletes at the school, regardless of sport or gender. While many schools tend to prioritize one sport in their NIL funding — usually football — UW offers NIL accessibility to a wide range of both men’s and women’s teams.

Just last month, four Wisconsin student-athletes agreed to an NIL deal with Fetch Rewards — a mobile application that allows shoppers to accumulate rewards. These athletes are volleyball middle blocker Devyn Robinson, men’s basketball guard Chucky Hepburn, women’s basketball guard Sydney Hilliard and football wide receiver Chimere Dike.

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These athletes will be leading a content video series called “Changing the Game” which will showcase the talent and development of leaders in athletics, the workplace and throughout the Madison community.

This is only the beginning of the nationwide NIL movement. As more and more schools develop their own programs and athletes continue to sign deals and increase their name value, it seems the NIL institution is expanding rapidly. With the amount of equitable and consistent support the Varsity Collective has offered to student-athletes in just one year, the possibilities and room for expansion in the collective are endless.


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