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Stephen Tsai: Mid-majors like UH need groups like Rainbow Collective

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Back in the day, basketball prospect Ricky Tunstall was set to pick the University of Hawaii until he saw cockroaches during his recruiting trip. He chose Youngstown State.

Luc Longley, a center from Australia, also was a heavily pursued prospect. Longley signed with New Mexico and then went on to a lengthy NBA career. He won three NBA titles with Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, and later was part of a trade for Hall of Fame center Patrick Ewing. While Longley went to New Mexico, Longley's mother decided to enroll at UH as a grad student.

During a basketball practice, a power forward got into an argument with point guard Thomas Louden. The forward then ran out of the practice gym, never to be seen again.

But B-52s, Albuquerque's allure and hold-me-back spats of the old days are now considered manini challenges. The current Rainbow Warriors are trying to shed leg weights in the race for opportunities for their players to profit from use of their name, image and likeness.

Since 2021, when the NCAA permitted student-athletes to earn money from NIL deals, the 'Bows have tried to keep pace with other Big West programs. While power conferences lead the way, with some of their sponsors arranging seven-figure deals, several mid-major programs also have been recipients of lucrative deals.

Last year, the Downtown Athletic Club, led by former Honolulu mayoral candidate Keith Amemiya, and Rainbow NIL, headed by Mike Kawazoe, started collectives that would raise money and encourage sponsorships toward NIL opportunities for UH student-athletes.

Kawazoe said the Rainbow Collective is in response to NIL opportunities being part of the recruiting process.

"We're in a place now where you can't really have a conversation with a kid without having some type of financial incentive behind that," said Kawazoe, who is a chief fundraiser for the Rainbow Collective. "You kind of see the landscape here. We have a great culture. We've got great fans and great support. It's just the financial part of it was lacking. It's an ongoing process."

The Rainbow Collective works with Student Athlete NIL, which handles the paper work, taxes, compliance and distribution of money. SANIL administers about 50 collectives for college teams across the country.

Donors and sponsors to the Rainbow Collective can specify a UH sport or make a general donation. There are monthly subscriptions, one-time donations and corporate deals. "My dream is to have 10,000 people at $10 a month contributing to our NIL program," Kawazoe said. "That's not too much to ask. People need to be educated about it. And people need to know the vehicle is the right vehicle."

Last year, the collective raised mid-six figures in donations and sponsorships. About 20 student-athletes received NIL deals, including all six UH men's basketball seniors. Deals ranged from $1,000 a month to a lump sum of low six figures.

On Monday, the Rainbow Collective announced the "Fore the Players Classic," an Aug. 1 golf event at the Kapolei Golf Club. Net proceeds will directly support the UH men's basketball players.

The Rainbow Collective reached out to Campio Sports to organize a money-raising golf tournament. Jake Headrick, Campio's owner, has run and organized 20 tournaments to benefit NIL programs. Houston's men's basketball team was the first, in June 2022. Arizona, Saint Mary's Mississippi State and Kansas State are among the other basketball programs.

Headrick said the Hawaii event will include prizes valued at $500 or more for all 18 holes; complimentary food and beverages;"one-of-a-kind" swag and custom gifts; "high-level" prizes, and a banquet.

"My goal is to have a day for the University of Hawaii that can be a game-changing NIL event for them but also be an experience for these fans where they can play high-level golf and also get to know these student-athletes," Headrick said.

Participation is pricey: $10,000 per four-person team. There are 25 team slots available. (Details at campiosports.com/hawaii-fore-the-players-classic.)

But as the 'Bows are learning, there is a steeper cost to not competing in the NIL race.