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Fans in the crowd stand disappointed after a close game between the UNM men's basketball team and San Diego State University on Saturday, Feb. 25.

OPINION: NIL collectives are fan exploitation

How much does a fan owe their team? Unconditional love and support? Buying concessions at a game? $10 a month until the end of time?

University of New Mexico head football coach Danny Gonzalez recently announced a partnership with 505 Sports Venture Foundation — a local nonprofit dedicated to getting student-athletes endorsements and NIL deals — to create a new name, image and likeness collective with a subscription-based model.

An NIL collective is a pool of money made up of smaller donations from fans and boosters. The money is then distributed to the players with the use of a third party to work around the fact that universities can’t pay their players directly.

This new model includes different tiers for a monthly donation of $44, $22 or $10, according to the Albuquerque Journal. NIL is great for student athletes — it provides opportunities to make back some of the money they raise for their universities. But something was lost along the way, and now fans are asked to give donations for teams to stay competitive.

Student athletes have every right and a responsibility to go for the best opportunities provided to them under current rules, but without multi-billionaire alumni or mega corporations backing teams, where does that leave cities like Albuquerque?

This burden should not be placed upon fans. Fans who go to as many football games as they can afford already pay anywhere from $86 for general admission with more exclusive seats reaching the $1,000 mark.

With the amount of money generated from sports, fans should expect products for their purchases. Some may argue that these small donations will lead to talented players staying and coming here, and they probably will, but that doesn't mean it's the fan's obligation to pay.

It was a privilege to witness The Pit come back to life this season. It surpassed my expectations from the stories and legends from before my time. Sold-out crowds and barely being able to see or hear during close games from the media section felt pure. Everyone wanted to be there. I'm not sure if it would have come across the same way knowing that the people in the stands aren't just paying to see their favorite players but are paying them because UNM can't.

Athletes already have to put up with the sneers and jeers from a rowdy crowd. I don't think it's fair to add another layer of burden. Will athletes be able to perform the same under these conditions?

Of course, it's not unethical for the athletes to take the money, but they shouldn't be working for tips. It would be weird if after the game fans threw $10 bills on the court, so how is it different if it's via PayPal account?

If UNM can afford to pay coach Gonzalez $700,000 to win two football games, UNM can manage to directly pay their student athletes.

While this may seem like an attack on UNM and 505 Sports Venture, this is an NCAA-created issue. You can't fault UNM for finding ways to stay competitive even if it comes at the fans' expense. The NCAA needs to ban NIL collectives — they are fundamentally changing the fan experience for the worse.

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The devotion of fans who chose to donate is admirable, but fans who opt out are not lesser fans. I respect the institution for trying to find ways to retain and attract the best players, but this is a line not easily uncrossed. If UNM thinks the football team went 2-10 overall and 0-8 in conference play because other teams were able to find their players more money, I would like to see those numbers.

Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @thomasbulger10

Thomas Bulger

 Thomas Bulger is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @thomasbulger10 

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