'The next arms race:' Florida football coach Billy Napier endorses new UF NIL collective

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

Florida football coach Billy Napier offered a strong endorsement of Florida's new exclusive Name, Image and Likeness Collective, Florida Victorious, on Monday night.

Napier and Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin appeared on the 45-minute Zoom Call with Florida Victorious founder Jose Costa and ESPN studio host/reporter and Florida alum Laura Rutledge, who is on the new collective's board of directors.

Florida Victorious took over as the school's exclusive NIL arm last week, absorbing the Gator Collective and Gator Guard three months after Jaden Rashada's botched NIL deal (worth a reported $13.8 million) led to the five-star quarterback asking out of his Letter of Intent with UF. Rashada has since signed with Arizona State.

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"This is the next arms race, this is the next big thing you have to have in order to be competitive from a recruiting standpoint and dynamic," Napier said. "And we have the vehicle. Jose has built the vehicle. Now it's about Gator Nation getting behind it."

In streamlining to one collective, Florida is following a model similar to Auburn and Ole Miss, who recently rebranded and consolidated their NIL Collectives into exclusive organizations.

"We don't want to confuse people anymore, and we want to have one community that's best in class and where everybody can participate," Costa said.

Costa got his bachelor's degree from UF's College of Agriculture before getting his M.B.A. from the University of Miami. Based on Coral Gables, Costa has owned and operated the world's largest ornamental plant supplier, Costa Farms, while also founding Fourshore Capital, a real estate investment firm.

Costa emphasized Florida Victorious will be adding a community service element into its organization. It will pay athletes to work with charities such as the Ronald McDonald House of North Central Florida, Habitat for Humanity of Alachua County and the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank. It's a model that several collectives around the country use, including Indiana University's Hoosiers for Good, which pays athletes for charitable appearances.

Florida football coach Billy Napier, shown before the Orange and Blue game last Thursday, heartily endorses the university's new NIL partner.

"We have to be competitive with our experience and our product relative to NIL, but I think we're doing what maybe college athletics should be doing," Napier said. "If we're going to do NIL at the University of Florida, let's do it with class, and let's do it in a way that has checks and balances, that's NCAA approved, that's state-law approved, with people with great integrity and a good heart and that's what I would say about this group."

The new collective sponsored UF's spring game last week. It had extensive advertising on ribbon boards at The Swamp in an effort to get the new brand name out and ask fans to donate.

"NIL is going to be a numbers game, right," Stricklin said. "The more people we can get engaged helping our athletes, the better the experience those athletes will have with NIL and it's going to give the University of Florida a huge leg up on the people that we go out there and ask our young people to compete with, compete against on a regular basis."

Title IX concerns raised

During the Zoom call, a question was asked as to whether Florida Victorious would support the women's volleyball team. Stricklin responded by saying he believed it was Costa's vision to support every Florida student-athlete when it's fully funded.

"That's absolutely correct," Costa said. "This is a dollars and cents game. We have priorities and we are trying to get to all of them as quickly as we can. It's part of the fundraising but that is our intent. We're going to be helping every student athlete."

The issue of fairness of Title IX when it comes to collectives has been raised by several women's sports advocates, including Title IX attorney Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Women's Sports Foundation CEO Donna Lopiano. Last month, Florida State softball player Kaley Mudge testified before congress, calling for more equity in regard to NIL opportunities and funding for women's athletes.

Florida women's gymnastics standout Trinity Thomas, a three-time SEC gymnast of the year, has been unable to generate the same blockbuster NIL deals as LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne. Over the weekend, Thomas tied the NCAA's record for Perfect 10s and helped lead the Gators to a second-place finish at NCAA nationals.

Later in the call, Costa pointed out that Florida Victorious is already supporting athletes from five different UF women's programs and that donors can earmark specific contributions for women's sports programs on the association's website.

"We've already had a lot of people do that," Costa said.