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New Foundation, Collectives Help Maryland Student-Athletes Capitalize on Their Brands

Efforts Also Aim to Connect Fans, Improve Local Community

By Alyssa Muir

Football players run onto the field between pillars shooting flames

The Best is Ahead Foundation is a nonprofit designed to help UMD football players, shown running onto the field before the Michigan State game in October, navigate NIL opportunities in community service and prepare for post-college careers.

Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Maryland Athletics has recently expanded its support of student-athletes profiting from their name, image and likeness with the launch of a foundation and several collectives to keep the University of Maryland on the cutting edge of recruitment and retention.

For schools in the so-called “Power Five” conferences—the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, Big 12, Southeastern and Pac-12—NIL opportunities and independent NIL “collectives” that contract with student-athletes are now considered essential. At Maryland, football has created The Best Is Ahead Foundation (TBIAF), men’s basketball is in partnership with Turtle NIL Management, and men’s lacrosse founded its Hard Shell Collective.

“Having NIL funds is 100% essential now,” said Dan Crowley, director of TBIAF and a college teammate of Terps football coach Michael Locksley. “You’re failing if you don’t have it. The reason I’m here is because it’s not going everywhere. For me to play a little role at Maryland and help do this thing the right way, that’s really cool.”

Student-athletes have been allowed to make money off their name, image and likeness (NIL) since the summer of 2021, following a landmark policy change from the NCAA. Deals around the country have ranged with companies from local restaurants to national apparel lines and sometimes are in cash or offer high-ends goods such as luxury cars.

At Maryland, student-athletes from all 20 teams disclosed a total of 619 NIL activities last year. Just over half (52%) of the deals were disclosed by female student-athletes. Overall, student-athletes downloaded 44,985 pieces of media content via Opendorse, a company UMD partners with to help build their brands on social media.

With the introduction of collectives, the scope of collegiate athletics changed yet again. In most forms, a collective is a group of boosters, alums or supporters coming together to form an organization that provides NIL opportunities to student-athletes at a specific institution.

There’s no standard for collectives across universities; each school and sport has the license to have some level of creativity with it. TBIAF is a nonprofit foundation, rooted in a mission to partner University of Maryland football players with youth in the surrounding community. Fans and supporters can donate on the TBIAF website to compensate student-athletes for their community work.

“This provides an avenue to support student-athletes,” Crowley said. “You know exactly where this money is going. I can guarantee 100% of it is going to a Maryland football player to support them and teach them a lot of life lessons. And I feel like we’re doing it the right way here at Maryland.”

Locksley added that the benefits are twofold: “You’re supporting the University of Maryland by supporting this foundation, which affects the football players that are part of the university, while also supporting some of the great things we’re doing in the community.”

In men’s basketball, Turtle NIL Management allows fans to donate to specific players as a result of their personalized brands and efforts to promote them on social media.

“The power of NIL and our collective creates opportunities for our players,” said coach Kevin Willard. “Many of these could be life-altering: giving them better financial literacy, empowering them to be entrepreneurs, and providing real-world business acumen, all of which are educational skills that will help them as they go forward in life. Turtle NIL Management helps manage these opportunities, while also helping our players evaluate how they can make the most of each.”



Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.