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BYU players’ new NIL deal with Built Brands hits from inside out, bottom to top

Star players benefiting from NIL? Try what hit BYU with walk-on players gaining the most

A Built logo can be seen on the helmet of a BYU player during fall camp in Provo, Utah.
A Built logo can be seen on the helmet of a BYU player during fall camp in Provo, Utah.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo

In the sprint to explore college sports’ new NIL frontier, BYU may have trumped the field with its football players finding financial contracts with a protein bar called Built Bar.

The story found itself atop the perch of headlines on ESPN.com and was a key topic of commentary nationwide — check that — as far as Europe by Friday afternoon.

You can say what you want about the uniqueness of walk-on football players at BYU now enabled to have money provided by a sponsor to pay for the cost of a scholarship, yoking their NIL to that company.

But on the surface, it is pure genius for all parties. It is clever and virtuoso all at once.

Star running back Tyler Allgeier was once a walk-on at BYU until the 2020 COVID-19 winter semester. He is still paying off loans and debt from his time paying his own way. But now, those in his shoes at BYU, have been given a golden parachute, to live, work and play like a respectable human being instead of a grunt borrowing money to live their college dream.

“I had tears in my eyes,” said Allgeier of the announcement on Thursday seeing the reaction from nonscholarship teammates.

The thing that struck me most when listening to Built CEO and co-founder Nick Greer talk about his NIL deal with BYU football players, a financial deal ranking from $1K to scholarship players to more than $3.5K per semester to walk-ons, was his lack of capitalistic arrogance or avarice in this deal.

In college sports today, that is as rare as a two-headed shark.

This entire thing started by players wanting more than scholarship money — an education. It was about “me” and “I” and the NCAA vs Alston decision by the Supreme Court that demolished NCAA control over what players could earn off their name, likeness and image. But it was always about what “the one” could earn.

This BYU player deal is about the player with the very least earning power.

Imagine.

Greer may really desperately care about his rate of return on this investment and added revenue, but convincingly showed this past week that he didn’t really care about the coin.

Say, what?

An American businessman distracted from the spreadsheet?

It’s true.

The most obvious thing to do in this NIL world would be to grab a star such as last year’s QB Zach Wilson and pour resources into him to represent a company.

This move by Greer and Built Brands goes the exact opposite direction.

It turns NIL upside down.

Writing for USA Today, Mike D. Sykes postulated on the BYU-Built deal, “... this feels like a pretty huge loophole that could change the shape of college football as we know it.”

Greer, who lives in Alpine and has supported BYU athletes for years, sees a different mission for his company’s marriage to BYU players.

He is investing in people. Future leadership. He’s trying to take a step in another direction in this Wild, Wild West NCAA NIL universe that’s exploding.

Instead of players chasing big bucks, looking out for themselves, he likes the idea that an entire team is capable of turning away from “What can I get?” and embrace the “What can we all get” approach.

Sounds corny, but he sold it, right from his soul.

He believes that approach may create a powerful dynamic for the team as it trickles down to individual players.

A kind of bonding agent like the 300 Spartans’ last stand against the Persian Army in 480 B.C.

“I see them investing in themselves and we are investing in them and their growth as human beings and future leaders of our communities and country,” said Greer.

“I want to change the discussion, change the dialogue, build a place where everyone can survive, not just the scholarship players, but the walk-ons too, who work just as hard if not harder on and off the field.”

CBSsports.com college football columnist Dennis Dodd, on vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona, was kind enough to respond to a request for his perspective on what BYU players got from Built.

He saw the video of Greer presenting his plan to BYU walk-on players on Thursday, a video viewed nearly 3 million times by the weekend.

“Friggin’ amazing. Not a competitive advantage. Not pay for play. Just pure humanity,” Dodd said in an email. “There should be a company attached to each program who should do this. Great PR. Great gesture. Helping these kids and their families.”

It didn’t get by Dodds that the marketing aspect of this move by Built was sheer brilliance.

“Great guerrilla marketing on Built Bar’s part,” he said. “Don’t know if they’ll get their return on investment, but with a unique gesture like that they couldn’t have gotten more powerful PR for the company.”

Greer was a drowning victim a long time ago, caught up in the tide that is Kalani Sitake’s sincere and genuine love for his players. From up close and afar, he saw it wasn’t fake and how it impacted his relationship with players — how they felt it and reacted to it. It fostered program themes of Built4Life and Built not Born.

The Sitake infection quickly slammed him.

“You can’t help but notice and be impressed with how much Kalani loves and cares for these players,” said Greer.

He then decided to do what he could to help the least-ranked underlings on the roster — the walk-ons borrowing money, working jobs after school, taking out loans, essentially playing for just the love of the game.

A Built logo can be seen on the helmet of a BYU player during fall camp in Provo, Utah.
Jaren Wilkey/BYU

Built Brands’ contribution is money in the pocket of these types to use however they want. But a start would be to pay for tuition, books and fees.

“We didn’t get into this looking to set a trend or make news,” said Sitake. “We did it to help players who need help and make a difference in their lives.”

Said Sitake, “We try to run a program where you don’t know the difference between a scholarship and a walk-on player. But there is, and it’s in the pocketbook. I didn’t want to see them go into debt.”

Jeff Hansen of 247sports.com put it another way when I asked the recruiting guru what impact he sees in this deal.

“More than anything, the deal with Built proves that BYU and Kalani treat walk-ons the same way they do scholarship kids. Kids considering walking on at BYU know that they won’t be treated like summer interns, they will be treated as valuable members of the team and given chances to play. That seems subtle, but it isn’t that way at every school. BYU’s walk-on program is unique and the deal with Built just reinforces how unique it really is.”

August is football fall camp time, a stretch when QB derbies and season-ending injuries are the big headlines in college football.

Somehow, Built Brands found a way to become a national story weeks before its partners even kicked off a football game.

That takes some … what’s the word?

Innovation?

Inspiration?

Maybe both.