The current state of name, image and likeness in college sports has provided a new reason for athletic departments to turn to donors for financial support.
But just because NIL has been a gamechanger over the last couple years, it doesn’t mean those donors have anything more to give.
And that has created tension when it comes to the prioritization of limited funds. Just a few years ago, funding new facilities was job one in college football, and shiny new structures and additions were popping up throughout the Big Ten and beyond.
But all of those brick and mortar projects have suddenly taken a backseat to NIL.
IU football coach Tom Allen likens the dynamic to something he recalls from his childhood.
“I was raised in a church. And as a kid growing up, your church does a building fund, so they start raising money to build a new building,” Allen said. “Well, you are just asking the same people to give money, so the money increases in that fund, and the other ones go down. It’s no different.
“You have all this money people are giving to Indiana University like every college has, and you’re dealing with the same people. Well, you know what, they may not have any increase in their resources, so they’re just going to give less here and more over here.”
The IU football program has already made several major stadium renovations over the last two decades, closing in both end zones, updating the locker room, and adding several bells and whistles in connection with those enhancements. But compared to their peers in the Big Ten, IU is always playing catch-up, with facilities that rate in the bottom half of the league.
The pressure to fund NIL for the IU football program is also intense. Playing in the Big Ten, Indiana is competing against traditional powers with seemingly unlimited resources. And as Allen highlighted recently, every program throughout the country with meaningful NIL coffers is a threat. When a player such as a Jaylin Lucas has a breakout season, the offers follow.
Allen said the current NIL landscape has caused the sudden shift away from financing new facilities, and that is something he generally supports when it comes to the IU football program.
There’s no sense in having nice facilities if you can attract and retain the talent to use them.
“You’ve got to fund your scholarships, and you’ve got to fund NIL. To me, that should be the focus,” he said.
Allen was able to keep Lucas from hitting the transfer portal with an NIL deal he insinuated was meaningful but not “generational.” That signals IU football has enough funds available to at least be strategic in the NIL space, if not competitive at the top.
But keeping talent comes at a cost. Indiana can’t completely abandon their infrastructure, and it’s clear Allen and IU are trying to strike a balance.
Earlier this week the program announced the football team will have its own dedicated weight room in the north end zone. That came via a donation, and that’s IU playing catch-up, as most Power Five programs have dedicated weight rooms at this point.
And Allen did say at Big Ten media days that there is still one glaring facilities issue his program needs to address.
The team practices indoors at the now dilapidated (and shared) Mellencamp Pavilion, which was built in 1996.
“Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to do some good things (with facilities), but I want to see us get our indoor (practice facility) renovated, there’s no doubt about that,” Allen said.
Time to pass around the donation cup again.