When USC partnered with an outside media company to launch BLVD LLC, the hope was that its unique approach to facilitating name, image and likeness endorsement deals for Trojan athletes would help stem the tide of runaway conglomeration. by donors — and keep USC out of it. crosshairs of any future NCAA crackdown.
But less than two months later, the Times has learned that a group of USC donors and hard-pocketed fans is moving forward with its own NIL operation against the school’s wishes.
The group plans to soon launch a “Student Body Right,” a third-party pool they say is necessary for USC to properly compete with other mainstream schools that have co-ed groups. They are hardly alone among Trojan football fans, especially those frustrated at BLVD.
Within USC, however, the effort to start a joint initiative outside the reach of the university is viewed as an existential threat that could invite serious scrutiny if the NCAA chooses to enforce its NIL policies.
Dale Rech has no such concerns. A businessman based in Florida and a lifelong USC fan, Rech was a Trojans football donor into the Pete Carroll era, but grew disenchanted with the athletic department and eventually cut ties. He is leading the Student Body Right effort, he says, to offer a NIL option instead of BLVD “for those who want to contribute to the football program without having anything to do with USC at all.”
The group includes Brian Kennedy, once one of USC’s greatest athletic benefactors and whose name still lingers on the Trojan practice field. Kennedy’s relationship with USC soured nearly a decade ago, but he confirmed to the Times that he was involved in discussions about Student Body Rights.
Details of how payments will be distributed to players have yet to be finalized, but Rech said the intent of the collective is to provide “base salary equivalent” to all academically eligible members of the USC football team. To receive these payments, players would perform community service and participate in charity work with local organizations.
How that charity work will be valued or how payments would be divided between players is still up in the air. Student Body Right filed for 501c3 status as a charitable organization, which would make certain donations to the group tax-deductible. BLVD is not a 501c3 charitable organization.
Student Right is not the first outfit outside of NIL to apply for that status. Many groups have already applied for or received the same 501c3 status, including those at Texas, Texas Tech, Notre Dame and Arizona, even as some experts warn it could invite scrutiny if it decides the IRS or state governments take a closer look. as to whether or not it exists for charitable purposes or not.
The messiness of that definition, along with the regulatory uncertainty surrounding NIL, is already making USC leaders uneasy.
In response to questions from the Times, USC athletic director Mike Bohn issued a statement, outlining the university’s position. He refused to acknowledge the existence of a Student Body Right.
“Earlier this year, USC worked with StayDoubted to create BLVD LLC, an agency and media company that provides NIL services to all USC students,” said Bohn. “USC is not aware of a formal donor-created NIL pool. We ask any donors who wish to support USC athletes through NIL to please work with BLVD so that all activities are conducted in accordance with state laws and NCAA rules.”
Rech confirmed that the group consulted with multiple outside attorneys and tax experts in forming the collective group to ensure that they are in compliance with all applicable NCAA rules, however uncertain the interpretation of those rules may be at present. However, new guidelines laid out by the NCAA in May expressly prohibit fans — as well as the groups they may represent — from being involved in the recruiting process or offering NIL deals as an incentive. to sign with a school.
The NCAA could likely hold USC responsible for any violation of those rules. But Rech says the Right Student Body has no intention of getting involved in recruiting or anything related to prospective Trojan athletes. NIL payments would only be made to registered athletes who completed the required charity work.
“This is an independent assembly, with no connection or connection to the university,” said Rech. “The NCAA can’t go back on the university as long as we’re meeting what the NCAA and state guidelines require. There is no turning back from us at the university. They just want control.”
That power struggle is not unique to USC. As third-party groups continue to proliferate across college football, universities find themselves grappling with big-money donors who could suddenly wield enormous influence over athletics, keeping them in check under control.
“We feel very good about the way we’re aligned, involved with BLVD, and we’re looking forward to a successful agency that abides by NCAA rules,” Bohn told the Times when asked if the two organizations could co- . there.
When Rech began exploring the prospect of a third-party conglomerate at USC, he says he reached out to BLVD to let them know about his plans and inquire about working together.
“They were confident they didn’t need our help,” Rech said.
So he decided at the time to pause progress on the group, as BLVD planned to make an offer to members of the USC Scholarship Club, including high-level donors who have pledged $20,000 or more of them for the Troy Athletics Fund.
BLVD hosted two Zoom meetings last month where the organization’s goals were outlined. One slide from their presentation, seen by The Times, shows that BLVD set a fundraising goal of $75 million over the next five years, which amounts to $15 million a year.
But the presentations also raised concerns from some donors about where their money would be allocated. As explained during the meeting, only 50% of any donation would be allocated when the donor chooses, and the remaining 50% would be set aside in BLVD’s general fund for allocation, however, according to BLVD.
That policy is currently being changed in the face of pushback from donors, two people familiar with the decision told The Times. But concerns about BLVD’s viability in the NIL market remain among high-level donors and USC fans, many of whom have been clamoring for a third-party pool to emerge in recent months.
For the Rech, those concerns were the ultimate motivation to move forward with the Student Body Right. He doesn’t see why USC is so sure the two can’t coexist.
“We’re not giving up on BLVD,” Rech said. “We’re filling a gap of money that they weren’t going to get anyway.”
Like USC administrators, Mike Jones doesn’t see the need for an outside assembly and the potential liability that comes with it. As CEO of StayDoubted, the outside media agency that partnered with the university to create BLVD, Jones told the Times that BLVD has the potential to operate like no other collective in the country.”
Jones continued to refer to BLVD as “collective plus” — a change in the phrase from when it was implemented in June when USC sought to distance itself from any association with collective groups.
“We see ourselves as a model for the future of what collective will do,” Jones continued.
Asked for proof of that progress, Jones said USC is “looking at eight-plus figures annually” in private donations, before considering possible corporate sponsorships, content sales or merchandise. He added that USC has already released “seven-figures-plus” in deals for Trojan athletes since the implementation of BLVD.
New USC coach Lincoln Riley reflected that positive attitude at Pac-12 media day when asked about the launch of BLVD.
“I took this job feeling that we would have advantages in the NIL space over any team in the country, and I know that now,” Riley told the Times. “I know [BLVD] still a little bit in its infant stages, and I think this thing is going to be a huge part of USC athletics and USC football. It’s something that I have my full support, the full support of our team and I would encourage all Troy fans out there to get involved because it will Make a Difference.”
While supporting BLVD, Riley acknowledged that there may come a time when there are standard assemblies for all major college football programs.
“If this world becomes a collective world, our supporters here will support our boys as much as anyone in the country,” Riley said. “If it doesn’t become a collective world, who has a better arrangement than this? However these rules change, we are located. What we don’t want to do to a future athlete, our current program, any of the staff is that we do something now that is later deemed against the rules or they decide to enforce the rules, and now we in trouble. Now we are in trouble. Now we are on probation. Now people are getting lost or guys are losing eligibility. Nobody wants to go through that. We don’t need to. Here, you can have all the benefits, and you don’t have to take that risk. Then, whenever they define these rules, we’ll set our course and go.”
Rech has no less confidence in BLVD. In the fast-changing world of NIL, he insists he wants to make sure every football player’s living expenses are taken care of at USC. If that means working with BLVD or continuing an already contentious relationship, so be it.
“We welcome anyone who can get USC back to winning national championships,” Rech said.