One of the best young players on the 2021 Colorado football team will be in Boulder on Saturday.
Christian Gonzalez will be wearing an Oregon uniform, however.
A week later, two more of the top Buffs from last year – Mekhi Blackmon and Brenden Rice – will be on the field at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but in USC Trojans uniforms.
In the relatively new era of the transfer portal and NIL (name, image and likeness) opportunities in college sports, CU lost six of its best players last winter, and interim head coach Mike Sanford would like to avoid that becoming a trend.
“The retention of this roster is by far the most important thing, because we have some tremendous examples of growth (in young players this season),” Sanford said Tuesday during his weekly press conference. “If we have to hit the reset button again with our roster, I don’t think that’s going to be in the best interest of anything going forward.”
To that end, Sanford spent much of his 24-minute press conference talking less about this week’s opponent – No. 8 Oregon (7-1, 5-0 Pac-12) visits the Buffs (1-7, 1-4) on Saturday at Folsom Field (1:30 p.m., ESPN) – and more about the Buffs4Life NIL Collective that launched last week with hopes of being able to financially support student-athletes.
For years, Buffs4Life has been a non-profit organization that provides support for former Buffs in need. The group is now extending its support to current student-athletes. From every donation, 15 percent will go to the Buffs4Life Foundation and the rest will go to the student-athletes. Donations can be made to specific teams, groups or athletes.
“I really do believe that this is a game-changing narrative for our program,” Sanford said.
On July 1, 2021, the NCAA approved an NIL policy that no longer prevents student-athletes from profiting from their name, image and likeness. Student-athletes around the country have benefitted from NIL opportunities in the past 16 months.
Numerous schools around the country have had NIL collectives for months, but CU has not up to this point. CU did, however, launch the Buffs NIL Exchange in January that allows businesses to partner with CU student-athletes.
This season, CU has had several young players emerge as playmakers, such as receiver Jordyn Tyson, quarterback Owen McCown and more. The Buffs4Life NIL Collective could help CU in retaining some of its best young players – and Sanford used his platform Tuesday to speak to potential donors.
“I’m calling on former Buff players; I’m calling on people in this CU community that support football and want us to have a great product on the field,” Sanford said. “This is where we have to go. This is not something that’s just going to happen organically. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a small gift or a major gift. Everything is going to help get us to where we want to get.”
NIL has impacted recruiting and the transfer portal around the country. Sanford said that in the past two years, including his roughly 11 months at CU, he’s seen that impact.
“There’s been several stories … where we’re in deep with a recruit, or a transfer, even sometimes a personal connection to that transfer,” Sanford said. “And we’re on the phone, everything’s good, there’s going to be an official visit and then all of a sudden it goes completely silent. You can’t get any text back, you can’t get any phone calls back.
“We find out hey, that particular student athlete went from essentially having no NIL on the table in general, from any school, and then all of a sudden, literally a $300,000 or $400,000 deal is on the table. So this is real, and this is where we’re stepping into this space as a football program.”
Many of CU’s peers are already deep into that space and Sanford wants the Buffs to get there. When he took over as interim head coach on Oct. 2, he said his focus would be all about the players. That sparked his message on Tuesday.
“Where I believe we have to take that next step is embracing this new collective, embracing Buffs4Life, taking care of our current roster – and I’m going to fight for that,” he said.
“(CU’s student-athletes) are taken care of in terms of being in one of the most beautiful cities in America. They’re taken care of with an athletic department and a staff that cares about them. But when you start looking outside to other peer institutions and you start seeing, wait a minute, they’re getting this and we aren’t? … I believe that the livelihood of this program going towards a championship level is going to be a combination of retention of the roster, continuing to hold on to our (class of 2023) commits and then being aggressive in the portal. Part of that is to make sure that you are well equipped from an NIL space to be able to get into that full speed ahead and not be behind.”