Inside the 1889 Collective -- University of Idaho's new NIL booster fund

May 23—MOSCOW, Idaho — With the ink barely dry on the papers establishing a corporation to accept financial donations and distribute money to University of Idaho athletes, several longtime Vandals supporters expect to have an idea by midsummer whether their goal to create a name, image and likeness collective to pay college athletes is succeeding.

The 1889 Collective, referencing the date the UI was founded, was created by Idaho alums Dave Tester, a sales and marketing consultant and former sports broadcaster in Meridian; Bill Kearns, of Boise, a real estate developer who played football at Idaho in 1978-79; and Greg Kimberling, who owns a Moscow insurance agency and is the former board chairman of Moscow's Gritman Medical Center.

Tester will serve as 1889 Collective president, Kearns as secretary and Kimberling as treasurer. The collective only became official May 1, and it had its first board meeting May 14.

"We don't have our first gift in the bank yet," Kimberling said. "Right now, we are focused on getting all our ducks in a row."

This alone is a challenging task since the NIL universe is a fast-moving world. Individuals and groups not affiliated with schools could only pay athletes without violating National Collegiate Athletic Association rules after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2021 that athletes could benefit financially from the use of their name, image and likeness.

The first arrangements were between separate companies and athletes, but booster groups like the 1889 Collective soon followed. Kimberling said his group began researching other collectives about a year ago.

"This is an evolving situation every day," Kimberling said, acknowledging it's one likely to be colored by litigation in the next few years that will continue to establish NIL boundaries.

While that process is ongoing, the fact the 1889 Collective is a corporation should indemnify collective officers and donors from personal liability, Kimberling said.

The officers have made an effort to get abreast of the current state of the NIL universe before creating a collective focused on UI athletes.

"We have been deliberate about trying to understand this before we jump in," Kimberling said. "We have looked at between a dozen and 20 different collectives. I would like to say there is a cookie cutter (for establishing NIL collectives), but there isn't."

In the next few weeks, the 1889 Collective hopes to partner with a marketing company, have small meetings with potential donors and reach out to Idaho coaches about collective opportunities for their athletes.

While UI's athletics department supports the effort to establish a collective, it cannot officially endorse it or participate in it without violating federal Title IX rules that require all NCAA schools to limit financial support to athletes to tuition waiver, room, board and stipend. Collectives must operate independently of schools.

The 1889 collective will probably initially be focused on football, because of the Vandals' recent success in making the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs the past two years.

Idaho lost five players to the NCAA transfer portal from last season's team that reached the quarterfinals. They left for the opportunity to earn six-figure NIL deals, according to Vandals coach Jason Eck.

"One guy who left last year, his mom could only afford to go to one game. I just didn't feel right. I couldn't invoke loyalty in that situation," Eck said about discouraging transfers.

While the 1889 Collective is not likely to have the ability to offer six figures to Vandals players, the opportunity to give players $10,000 to $20,000 could encourage some to stay, Eck said. Hanging on to top-tier talent is crucial for winning an FCS championship, Eck said.

"You better have 10 or 12 guys who can play anywhere," he said.

Collectives at the FCS level have been established at recent FCS champions such as North Dakota State and South Dakota State, Eck said.

In the Big Sky Conference, Idaho State is about where the UI is in starting a collective. Montana and Montana State have them up and running, according to Kimberling and Eck.

Both say 1889 Collective officials are mindful about not competing with existing donors to organizations such as the Vandal Scholarship Fund, Vandal Boosters and the university itself.

In addition to identifying a group of discrete donors to the collective, Kimberling suggests the collective might lead some of those donors to contribute to other groups supporting UI. He said the collective can also be a new venue for existing donors. He said the 1889 Collective officers have all been regular contributors to Vandals athletics for three or four decades.

Eck, who recently gave a presentation on the collective to donors in Coeur d'Alene, said NIL is now a part of college sports, and he accepts it.

"I have to figure this out and adjust," Eck said.

But Eck acknowledges the development of NIL and collectives is still a fast-moving target.

"I do not see Idaho, Eastern Washington and Montana getting in a bidding war for a player from Coeur d'Alene," he said. "But ask me in five years."