Once a week through October, Nevada Sports Net will publish an article on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and how it's impacting college athletics and, more specifically, the Nevada Wolf Pack. This series is presented in partnership with Friends of the Pack, Coit Services, EC Construction, Champion Chevrolet and Bradley Drendel & Jeanney. Today's feature includes a conversation about the community-service events Nevada athletes do in exchange for NIL money.
There's not one prevailing template used by Division I athletic departments to tackle name, image and likeness deals, each school grappling with the system-altering change in different ways.
The Nevada Wolf Pack is leveraging NIL deals to enhance its community engagement. While Nevada athletes are free to score their own NIL deals in a more traditional way — using your brand in exchange for commercial money or sponsored posts — the lion's share of Wolf Pack deals are done through "Friends of the Pack," Nevada's top collective.
That collective culls money from donors that is dispensed to Wolf Pack athletes in exchange for completing community events, which is termed a win-win scenario. Nevada's athletes get paid for doing a community good, and the community gets to interact with some of the region's top athletes, a program that's also meant to strengthen the connection between the two sides to boost attendance and engagement.
"We have a lot of great donors that help fund our collective, and in return we like to do a lot of community service with that," Friends of the Pack general manager Austin Clutts said. "We would love to get so many of our men and women student-athletes out in the community. I think it goes a long way with the kids. It goes a long way with even adults when they're just out there cleaning up the community. People love it."
One recent community-service event included a number of Wolf Pack men's basketball players visiting Grace Church in northwest Reno. The visit included some Nevada players playing ping-pong and dodge ball with youth while also signing autographs. They also tried to shoot fish, pineapples, watermelons — and, yes, basketballs — through a hoop.
"Getting out in the community, really serving others, to get an opportunity to help others and make a direct impact has been really great for us," Nevada sophomore Nick Davidson said. "I usually do stuff like this on my own. I've been doing it since high school. Coming from a Catholic high school, it's a mandatory requirement of 80 hours before you graduate, so I don't necessarily look at it for the paychecks, but it definitely helps, and I'm going to continue doing this and stuff on the side as well."
One of the dozens of people in attendance for the event was Adalynn Andersen, who said getting to know the Nevada basketball players made an impact on her.
"It's actually pretty cool," Andersen said. "I feel like it's pretty neat that they get to come out and be able to support us and be willing to support us like that. At the time, I didn't really care about basketball. I was, like, 'Cool, UNR, whatever.' But now that I actually met them, I'm going to be, 'That one came to MOVE,' or 'I met him' or 'I shook hands with him,' so it's pretty cool to have that interaction with them to make it more special."
Not all of Nevada's community-service events are tied to NIL payouts as the Wolf Pack coaches and players also do unpaid volunteer events. But this is one way Nevada is able to recruit and retain its top athletes while also serving the community.
"All things grow and change, and everyone's kind of figuring out what NIL means and what it does for athletics, but so far I've seen a lot of good things come out of this," Davidson said.
Among the other community-service events Nevada athletes have done on NIL deals are visits to elementary schools, fishing with kids and community cleanups.
"The thing I most enjoyed was the kids fishing derby because I loved fishing growing up, and if I got to fish with the UNR football players, I would have an absolute blast," said Nevada football player Christopher Smalley, a local product from Douglas High. "I had absolutely so much fun out there trying to help the kids rig up their lines, try to help them catch a fish and everything."
Added McQueen High graduate and Nevada football player Ashton Hayes: "The community opportunities I've had so far are with the Boys and Girls Club, getting some recess in with the kids, playing a little basketball. I've also read to a few elementary schools to be able to light up their face just by reading a book is super awesome to me because I know how much it would have meant to me when I was a young kid growing up if a college football player came and read to me. Just to be able to give back to the community in that way has been super, super monumental for me."
And for those in attendance, meeting Wolf Pack athletes can be a life-long memory.
"I'm having such a great time," youngster Cody Dethmers said at the Grace Church event. "I love the Nevada Wolf Pack. It's my favorite awesome team, and I love basketball."
"Friends of the Pack" is Nevada athletics' largest NIL collective and raises money that's distributed to Wolf Pack athletes. It has began a crowdfunding model that includes monthly and annual memberships, including the bronze pass ($25/month or $250/year) the silver pass ($50/month or $500/year) and the gold pass ($100/month or $1,000/year). You can learn more about "Friends of the Pack" here.