'Survival of the fittest fan base' -- UD's NIL collective adapting to new landscape

May 6—The dimensions of the court haven't changed. The basket remains the same height. Games still last 40 minutes.

The game off the court, though, has changed for college basketball coaches and players and the fans trying to keep up in the name, image and likeness era.

"I think the future of college basketball is survival of the fittest fan base," said Matt Farrell, a Carroll High School and UD graduate who worked on Brian Gregory's staff and now serves as the director of Dayton 6th.

In this case, fittest also means richest. Fans can contribute in any number of ways to Dayton 6th — buying Fly Light Lager from Warped Wing, collectible trading cards with the players' names and faces on them and sandwiches from All The Best Deli in Dayton or just donating cash — and every dollar counts, Farrell said.

Dayton 6th plays a prominent role in helping UD coaches recruit and retain players. Farrell talked about that and more in an interview with the Dayton Daily News on Friday.

A busy spring for Dayton coaches, who have seen five players enter the transfer portal — one of whom, Nate Santos, returned to the program last week — and added three players from the portal, has been "busy, chaotic and super crazy" for Farrell. It's the second straight year Dayton 6th has played a role in helping rebuild the roster. A year ago, Dayton lost six of its 12 scholarship players to the portal and added four transfers and two freshmen to the roster in the spring ad summer.

This spring, the focus remains the same for Dayton 6th: player recruitment, player retention and fundraising.

"Those are the things that we focus on at all times," Farrell said. "But we also have to have a vision towards where we're going. We're not flying by the seat of our pants. Everything we do is extremely intentional, well calculated."

Farrell plays a central role in recruiting because he represents Dayton 6th and can meet with recruits at the request of the player or their representatives, who could be an agent, coach, parent, etc.

A ruling by a federal judge in Tennessee on Feb. 23 changed everything.

"The court ruling in Tennessee, which basically stated that the NCAA's current interim guidelines were unenforceable, put boosters, including collectives and NIL representatives into the recruiting conversation," Farrell said. "That had been taboo right for decades. In the history of college basketball, that was a cardinal sin. And here we are. It's not only allowed, it's expected. That has obviously changed the game. It's not the way last spring was."

While Dayton 6th remains an independent entity, Farrell said, it serves Dayton coaches and players.

"What they need is what we deliver, and a strong Dayton 6th leads to strong Dayton basketball," Farrell said. "That gets us into fundraising. We've had success. It's important to acknowledge the success that we've had. And as we're sitting here driving down this foggy road ahead of us, it's important to look in the rearview mirror and look at how far we've come and acknowledge the wins that we've had and the milestones that we've achieved, but at the same time, we turn our eyes forward and we say, 'I can't fully see what this looks like ahead of me, and what got us to where we are today isn't enough to get us to where we need to go.' I think we've had tremendous corporate support and are continuing to beat that drum to find legitimate real marketing opportunities for our student athletes, not just talent acquisition disguised as NIL. We need more individual support from from every single fan, from every single alum."

No player has benefitted more from Dayton 6th's work than DaRon Holmes, who arrived on campus in 2021 just before the start of the NIL era. He drove a car provided by the White-Allen Auto Group the last two years. He entered into a paid partnership with Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken. He hosted a camp for kids at Sinclair Community College.

Other UD athletes have hosted camps for kids. All the men's and women's basketball players have endorsed H&R Block through a deal with UD fans Ron and Andrea Morton. Dayton 6th continues to look at new ideas to support the athletes and is exploring starting a monthly membership program for fans.

While exact numbers are hard to come by across college sports, Farrell believes Dayton 6th is competitive with similar collectives. When asked if knows where Dayton 6th stands in relation to other Atlantic 10 Conference programs, he made it clear it's competing in a bigger pool.

"I think we're right in the fight," he said, "and we are right there in the mix with all our peer programs, and I would say that I don't view our peers as those that you named. I view our peers very differently. I think we are punching above our weight class in many cases."

Dayton has still lost high-profile players — Kobe Elvis to Oklahoma and Koby Brea to Kentucky — to the portal. Farrell was asked, "How do you convince fans to give when they have given and still see players entering the transfer portal?"

"So much of what we see is an emotional response to the departures," Farrell said, "and there's just so much more than what meets the eye. In every one of these situations, both on the recruiting front and on the retention front, every circumstance is different. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. I think what we have and what we offer is attractive for nearly everyone, and we feel confident in what we offer and the opportunity that we can present student athletes when it comes to name, image and likeness."

Farrell likes where Dayton is compared to a year ago at this point. As of Friday, Dayton had four open scholarships, assuming Holmes keeps his name in the NBA Draft.

"I think this roster is in great shape," he said. "I think what we've seen from Anthony and Ricardo (Greer) and James (Kane) and Jermaine (Henderson) has been their ability to put the right pieces together, and they have my full confidence. I think they should have the fans' full confidence. Dayton 6th will support them in whatever they need."