LOS ANGELES — A new collective has emerged at USC intent on taking the reins of facilitating name, image and likeness deals for Trojan athletes at a university that not long ago viewed the rise of such a third-party group as an existential threat.
That once-contentious approach appears to be shifting with the launch of the Tommy Group, a donor-run collective led by six entrepreneurs with deep ties to USC.
Former Trojan football players Keyshawn Johnson, Alex Holmes and John Terzian, along with prominent businessmen and USC fans David Stromberg, Avi Chesed and Mike Hahn, have teamed up to launch the group, which they say will “tap into each of our professional expertises and personal networks to open up the world of personal branding, commercial deals and beyond to these kids in a major way.”
“This is a historic moment in college sports and wasn’t something we had access to when Holmes and I were coming up in the game,” Johnson said. “We’re excited to be at the forefront of this movement.”
How USC feels about that relationship was still uncertain as of Wednesday morning.
When a group of deep-pocketed donors launched Student Body Right with similar intentions last fall, USC made its concerns about a third-party collective clear. It had no plans to support any group operating outside the auspices of the university, out of fear of future NCAA scrutiny. Student Body Right’s stated goal of paying football players “the equivalent of a base salary” only made university officials more uneasy, even as the group vowed to steer clear of the recruiting trail, where inducement by way of NIL is expressly against the rules.
Few details were immediately available on Tommy Group’s plans for facilitating NIL deals with USC athletes. But already, ahead of its launch, the group appears to have a major foothold in that marketplace. As of Wednesday, the group said it has worked with 80 college athletes, including USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.
“I look forward to seeing all the different ways they can provide support for not only my team but other athletes in this new NIL era of college sports,” Williams said in a statement.
Other USC athletes are also expected to appear at a launch event for Tommy Group on Wednesday night, another sign that the arrangement with USC is starting on a more cooperative note.
The Tommy Group’s arrival also raises questions about the future of BLVD, USC’s in-house NIL operation, which was launched last summer in hopes of staving off the rise of a donor-run collective.
When Student Body Right challenged that status quo last August, USC athletic director Mike Bohn initially refused to acknowledge its existence. He released a statement at the time asking donors to “please work with BLVD so that all activities are conducted in compliance with state laws and NCAA rules.”
Questions about BLVD’s status have loomed ever since. Within BLVD, the intention is that USC’s in-house operation will exist alongside Tommy Group. An official with BLVD downplayed the notion that the two groups would have to be competitive.
It’s not that unusual for a major university to have multiple NIL collectives facilitating deals in the same marketplace. Florida and Texas each have three. But often expansion in that space has sparked confusion, which then inevitably led to consolidation.
How that marketplace might look at USC by next football season remains to be seen. But with the Tommy Group, another major player has stepped into the NIL space at USC — this time, with a much less hostile hello.