A new era has dawned recently in college athletics — for better or worse — and Utah’s Crimson Collective has officially launched to keep the Utes football program competitive nationally for years to come.

“Recruiting is the most important thing to succeed in college football over anything else, hands down. The biggest advantage to gain in recruiting is NIL resources, without a doubt. It’s the No. 1 thing that moves the needle, that allows you to retain a roster and recruit new guys into the program.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham

The announcement came Friday afternoon at the Layton Field Club at Rice-Eccles Stadium with coach Kyle Whittingham, athletic director Mark Harlan, quarterback Cam Rising, Crimson Collective founder Matt Garff, and Charlie Monfort, a Utah graduate and current owner of the Colorado Rockies, who is the board chair of the organization, in attendance. 

Now that the NCAA allows student-athletes to monetize and leverage their name, image and likeness, the frontier is wide open — and extremely competitive when it comes to recruiting. 

Naturally, Whittingham wholeheartedly supports efforts in helping him and his staff vie for the best talent available to compete for championships. 

“Recruiting is the most important thing to succeed in college football over anything else, hands down,” he said. “The biggest advantage to gain in recruiting is NIL resources, without a doubt. It’s the No. 1 thing that moves the needle, that allows you to retain a roster and recruit new guys into the program.

“Whether you love or hate it or agree with it or disagree with it, none of that matters,” he continued. “It’s here and it’s here to stay. If you love your team and you love your programs, then we need your support because that’s the direction college football is going. I don’t know if it’s going to be exactly, but the top 25 (in providing NIL opportunities) will be very similar to the top 25 teams.

“In my estimation, there will be some major realignment in the not-too-distant future,” the coach added. “We want to make sure that we’re on the right side of the line in the sand, when they do draw that line, and having a strong NIL is going to be a huge component and factor in that.”

The Crimson Collective’s vision is to assist student-athletes to build their unique brand and connect them with the community and support them in their goals and capitalize on their NIL marketing opportunities. 

“This is really a great opportunity for the university and all the football student-athletes,” said Rising, who has already taken advantage of NIL opportunities the past couple of years. “We’ve been looking forward to this and we’ve been excited for this — it’s a long time coming.”

“Focused on the opportunity to be a part of the community and improve it in the way that allows you to use your NIL with businesses and create connections that continue to develop things and have an easier student-athlete life to make sure that we can come out each Saturday and put our best foot forward, and keep playing and be a part of this community,” he continued. “That’s why I’m excited to have this collective. We’ve got the right people running it so it will be a good time.”

Harlan said he’s been looking at the NIL landscape for 24 months, adding that $4.5 million in NIL contracts have gone through the program already.

NIL opportunities help student-athletes grow and be able “to leave here, in whatever they do, more trained in the classroom of life,” Harlan said. “Now, we have the Crimson Collective. It’s going to supercharge these efforts going forward. We can only imagine what it can be and will be. The right people are involved with this. We’re very grateful for everyone giving their time. This is a call for action.”

By cooperating with student-athletes, the Crimson Collective will help bring attention to businesses, brands and charitable organizations through in-person appearances, social media promotion and other events. 

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The Crimson Collective will help expand the experience of Utah’s student-athletes by providing expertise in branding, marketing, sponsorship and digital strategies to improve their marketability.

The Crimson Collective will offer Utah fans new ways to engage with student-athletes and get involved with the program. 

Meanwhile, many other programs around the country have already set up collectives, making the recruiting landscape even more challenging. 

“Quite frankly, it is going to be very difficult, as it is in baseball, very difficult to maneuver your way through it. You’ve got the Daddy Warbucks sitting around throwing money around,” Monfort said. “It’s difficult and it’s going to be difficult here. We had to come up with a better plan here than they do in the Southeastern Conference that, in my opinion, try to throw money at certain athletes.

“I do believe it will separate their teams. There will be jealousies and contract difficulties about who’s making what. We had to come up with something different here. I believe this collective has figured out a way to do that,” he continued. “Obviously, it’s going to take money and community support and sponsors and just good ol’ Utah fan support. If anything is good about this NIL, it brings down the barriers between businesses, the community and the athletes themselves.”

Whittingham, who has guided the Utes to back-to-back Pac-12 championships, is thrilled to enlist more help from boosters and the community. 

“I’m so grateful to Matt Garff and for the work he’s done to bring this thing together. It’s exactly what we need as a football program,” he said. “The way it’s structured, it will give our players many, many opportunities to give back to the community. It’s a charity-based collective so it allows our players to get out in the community and integrate and do things and give back, which we’ve always stressed but this gives more opportunities for that. Hopefully, everyone will rally and become a part of this.”

Harlan said filling the stadium is a priority, but so is NIL — and that will require help from the Utah fan base.

“We’re going to ask for more from our fans and our supporters to give to this collective,” he said. “This is critical for us to keep this going.”

To learn more, go to crimsoncollective.org.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is doused in celebration at the Pac-12 championship.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham is doused in celebration before beating the USC Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. The Utes won 47-24. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News