In less than two years, nutritional energy bar-maker Built Protein Bars has given more than $1.25 million to BYU football players and the program in general, company co-founder and CEO Nick Greer said Tuesday night while vacationing with his family in Europe.

Greer was still upset after reading a report in The Salt Lake Tribune on Sunday in which six current or former BYU football players said his is one of the companies that has not fulfilled its financial promises to the athletes as part of a groundbreaking NIL deal that began in the fall of 2021.

“The royalties from the bar, we talked about them being redirected to the athletic department, specifically into Kalani’s discretionary fund to benefit player development. We have been meeting that obligation.” — Built CEO Nick Greer

He said he was “aggravated, frustrated and deeply saddened” by the players’ comments, which he believes is the result of a misunderstanding.

“It is sad and it is tragic that for nearly the last two years, we have … done something that was unprecedented, especially with the walk-ons. I mean, we have paid well over a million dollars towards BYU’s NIL-related initiatives,” Greer told the Deseret News on Tuesday. 

BYU stands by Built

Wednesday, BYU Athletics responded to inquiries from the Deseret News about the situation with a statement supporting its partnership with Built and Greer.

“BUILT has been, and continues to be, a great corporate partner of BYU Athletics. Through its NIL program, BUILT was among the first businesses in the nation to create a program to provide a team-wide benefit for all student-athletes and not just a select few. Its creation of a program to support our football walk-ons has been remarkable and even life-changing for our players,” the statement read.

“The agreement BUILT introduced in August with its CougarTail bars added another layer of benefits for our football players. As the first year of this new and extended agreement wraps up, BYU and BUILT are working on the final accounting and ensuring compliance on behalf of everyone — especially our players. 

“To date, BUILT has generously supported our student-athletes through NIL with more than $1.25 million. We are grateful for this partnership and look forward to continuing forward with BUILT,” the statement concluded.

Built says it went above and beyond for walk-ons

Greer said Built has not only “honored our contractual agreement,” but has honored the “spirit” of the deal because walk-ons were originally scheduled to have $3,000 of their tuition paid every semester, twice a year, but that price tag rose to $3,400 and the company paid it for every walk-on on the roster.

Greer called the news report “misleading” because he believes it focused too much on what the company allegedly didn’t do and not enough on all the positive ways it has “blessed the lives” of BYU football players, both walk-ons and those on scholarship.

“Some walk-ons (Tanner Wall and Nick Billoups) have even called it an answer to their prayers,” Greer said, citing posts from those players on Twitter after the Tribune article came out.

While the non-scholarship players have had their tuition covered, scholarship players have received $1,000 and new shoes before the seasons started in 2021 and 2022. 

At issue, as far as Built is concerned, is the players’ reported belief — only former receiver Neil Pau’u was named in the article; the other five were granted anonymity — that 15% of the profits from sales of Built’s new CougarTail bar, released in 2022, would be given to the players who were expected to promote the bars on their social media accounts and include a promo code.

BYU Athletics spokesperson Jon McBride clarified Wednesday that because BYU is still working through the final accounting process, the funds from the CougarTail bar sales have yet to reach head coach Kalani Sitake’s discretionary account and therefore Sitake has not had the ability to get the funds to the players, if he wishes to do so.

Players at odds over situation with Built

One current player contacted by the Deseret News on Sunday night, who asked for anonymity because he “doesn’t want to be a distraction or anything,” confirmed that players haven’t been paid “royalties” from the CougarTail bar sales or from the previous year when they promoted another flavor and expected to get 10% of those sales.

“I mean, we really haven’t been paid,” he said. “The last two promo codes, we haven’t seen anything. Built Bar has helped us out a lot, which we are thankful for, but I don’t understand what is going on. This isn’t like them.”

Running back Miles Davis, a scholarship player, said he is “not trying to bash anybody,” but doesn’t believe some of his teammates correctly understood what the deal entailed, when the 15% will be paid, and to whom — the players or the program.

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“That (15%) deal might still be going,” Davis said. “I think that is going to come with our next check at the beginning of fall camp, if any (money) was made. … That’s what a lot of people are kinda missing on this, because they are asking, ‘Where is the money at?’ I think it will be coming later. I think so far Built has held up their end of the deal.”

Davis said Built’s recent hiring of Billy Nixon from Kalani Sitake’s support staff as the company’s new director of sports marketing is proof that Built is still all-in with the Cougars.

“For Billy, one of our staffers (director of football operations), our workers, to go work for Built, that is huge,” Davis said. “That just shows that there is more to come from Built.”

A big misunderstanding?

Greer says he never promised that 15% of all net sales of the CougarTail bar would go directly to the players. He said the 15% would go “to directly benefit the student-athletes on and off the field” through the discretion of Sitake.

“The royalties from the bar, we talked about them being redirected to the athletic department, specifically into Kalani’s discretionary fund to benefit player development,” Greer said. “We have been meeting that obligation.”

Greer said some of the profits from the sales of the CougarTail bar have gone to BYU itself to pay for the licensing agreement his company had to acquire to use the name of the maple-flavored confection trademarked by BYU. He said on May 12 that Built representatives contacted BYU Licensing to make arrangements for the last payment of the agreement, which ends on Wednesday.

“This is an agreement that we have that is different from … what we did with the walk-ons initially,” Greer said. “And so this is a fun, creative, different way to support the BYU football team.”

Added the CEO: “It really comes down to a lack of understanding of how things work, and when you are only trying to help it is unfortunate when people try to smear you and push you down.”

‘A big mess’

Jake Brandon, a former high school football coach and a BYU fan who co-founded the NIL collective CougConnect in 2021, works with about 75 football players to help them line up NIL deals and other financial opportunities. Brandon said players truly believed after a big event at LaVell Edwards Stadium last fall that the 15% would go directly to them.

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The players also apparently believed Greer told them that night that Built had presold $150,000 worth of CougarTail bars and so they already had 15% of that existing revenue coming to them.

“It is a big mess,” Brandon said, while praising Greer and Built for all they’ve done for the players and program. “I do know that there are a lot of players who are upset.”

Brandon said to his knowledge no players are leaving the program over the apparent misunderstanding.

Asking for patience, and willing to pay back

Greer said the belief that he told players $150,000 worth of CougarTail bars had been sold before the launch of the 15% initiative “is a total misquote.”

“It was never $150,000 before we even launched it,” he said. “There was a much smaller percentage of that.”

Greer said former players who believe they are still owed money from 2021-22 should call him and he will pay it out of his own pocket.

“Yeah, sure, there is money involved, I get that,” he said. “But we have got to be deeper than that. They need mentorship. They need leadership. These boys are going to be leaders in these communities, and that’s what we need. And we are (talking about) petty stuff like this, like $180 bucks? And people saying stuff is not being paid out? That’s baloney.”

Nick Greer, co-founder of Built Brands, left, and BYU football coach Kalani Sitake greet each other during a press conference at the BYU Student Athlete Building in Provo on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, where they discussed Built Brands’ name, image and likeness agreement with BYU. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News