Texas Tech, The Matador Club provide road map for the future of college athletics

Photos courtesy The Matador Club

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LUBBOCK – There’s too much green in Lubbock to consider it a desert – $2.5 million to be exact. That’s how much an NIL collective at Texas Tech is paying 100 football players – 85 scholarship and 15 walk-ons – with one-year contracts worth $25,000 per player in 2022. It is the first of its kind and a trend likely to be followed and duplicated across the ever-changing landscape of college football.

The group leading the charge is The Matador Club. The collective put this plan in place late in 2021 after Joey McGuire was hired to replace Matt Wells. College athletics are evolving, and the donor base at Texas Tech want to keep up. That takes money. And the Red Raiders appear flush with cash.

Texas Tech has announced several facility projects in 2022. A different collective recently announced that the women’s basketball team is also receiving $25,000 per player. That’s not the end. The Matador Club has plans to announce the same contracts for men’s basketball and baseball. It expects that eventually – and they’re talking like it is sooner rather than later – every athlete at Texas Tech will be on one-year contracts.

“Initially, we needed to focus on the areas of highest need and competition because we’re running this thing like a business,” Matador Club Board member Cody Campbell said. “Eventually, we want the fundraising momentum to be at a point that allows us to sign every single athlete on campus. That’s something we plan to do, for sure.”

The announcement is life changing, and that’s not hyperbole. A 2019 study conducted by the National College Players Association found that 86 percent of college athletes live below the federal poverty line. The Texas Tribune website states that Texas Tech’s athletic department reported more than $77 million dollars in revenue for the 2015-16 school year. Athletic scholarships cost the schools $7.1 million dollars. The amount for coaching salaries was double that figure.

“It provides us with some financial freedom while in college, and it gives my teammates who send money home to their family more to help at home,” Texas Tech quarterback Donavan Smith said. “Not everyone has the greatest situation and now this can help their whole family and not just the players. Some of our guys have kids, so it helps with that, as well.”

The concept of NIL creates discussion. Most coaches say they support NIL, but want it regulated. Few argue that college players don’t deserve a piece of the pie. So, the issue is about how and how much, rather than if players deserve more money than they’re currently offered with scholarships and athletics. Campbell, and a growing group of donors at Texas Tech, agree with the coaches. And they want to provide some structure.

“I don’t think it is unfair for the players to get something,” Campbell explained. “There is a balance between professionalization of the sport and equity. These guys bring in a tremendous amount of value. The revenue is huge, and coaches are being paid monster salaries.”

There are three pieces to NIL requirements. First, the university can’t be directly involved. All contracts and money must be sourced from the outside donor base. NIL also can’t be used to entice recruits (laughs). Lastly, there must be an exchange of value. A collective can’t pay a player simply to play. That player must do something off the field. At Texas Tech, that means charity work and serving as ambassadors for non-profit organizations in West Texas.

The contracts last a year, and Campbell only sees the figure going up. The Matador Club researched the NIL landscape and determined that $25,000 a year was competitive. As more organized collectives pop up around the country, the group in Lubbock figures that number grows to remain competitive. That’s the new reality in college football – it’s treated like any other market. Success requires money, and fan bases across the country will either find that money or be left behind. Conference realignment tried to leave behind programs such as Texas Tech behind as it shifts towards two mega conferences in the Big 10 and the SEC. Committing this type of money to players and facilities is sure to help the Red Raiders avoid being lost in the shuffle.

“We want to be leaders in NIL to show that players can get some money in their pocket without losing the purity of the game that we all love as college football fans,” Campbell said. “What I got out of college football was much bigger than any dollar amount I could’ve gotten from NIL. The kids are getting a piece of what they’re bringing in, so that’s a little fairer, but there is still an amateurism to the sport because they’re still going to class and learning as young adults.”

Texas Tech is a sleeping giant. The Red Raiders went 84-43 in the first 10 years of the decade under the direction of Mike Leach. During that span, Texas Tech never finished a season below .500. McGuire is the fourth head coach since Leach departed after the 2009 season. Eight out of the last 10 seasons ended without a bowl invite thanks to a sub .500 record. And the two other years finished at 7-6. The last time Texas Tech finished conference play with a winning record? 2009. The last season under Leach.

The decade-plus of losing combined with a huge donor base – roughly 40,000 current students and a living alumni group of more than 300,000 – made it easy for The Matador Club to fundraise the new facility projects and the one-year contracts for players. The addition of McGuire’s positive energy didn’t hurt. 

“Everyone is ready to be excited about football again,” Campbell said. “I was pleasantly surprised how easily we raised the money. It is a combination of passion and impatience and the tension that’s built the last 10 or 11 years from struggling in football.”

Texas Tech is ready for the next phase of college athletics and a new-look Big 12. Maybe the Red Raiders struggled to keep up financially with Texas and Texas A&M, but the new conference should provide an even playing field. At the bank, on the field, and on the recruiting trail. There might not be a more competitive league in college football once the dust settles. But for 99.9 percent of recruits, the money remains a cherry on top of a sundae rather than the defining factor in choosing a program.

“For me, I wouldn’t say that NIL isn’t a huge priority,” Texas Tech quarterback commit Jake Strong said. “It was more about the program, the culture, what I wanted in an offense and a team. My priority is on finding the right fit for me and getting a free education from a great school.”

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