The head of the Ole Miss-affiliated NIL collective says the organization has topped the $10 million mark — among the highest reported levels of “name, image and likeness” funding in the nation.
The update from the Grove Collective, the organization collecting funds to distribute to Ole Miss athletes, comes as Rebels head football coach Lane Kiffin decides whether he’ll stay at Ole Miss or leave for SEC divisional rival Auburn, as has been reported in recent days.
Availability of NIL funds has emerged as perhaps the most important factor to college athletes and coaches since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that players could be compensated for their likenesses. These funds are raised by collectives and used to pay college athletes for corporate sponsorships.
“We set a goal to reach the $10 million mark by the end of 2023. We reached it this week,” Grove Collective executive director Walker Jones told Mississippi Today on Wednesday. “I think that stacks up head-to-head with most of the other schools in our conference and most in the nation.”
The NIL news could become a major factor in the days ahead in Oxford, where major donors are preparing for a potential national coaching search.
Supertalk’s Richard Cross reported last week that Ole Miss had offered Kiffin an extension to stay in Oxford to the tune of $9 million per year — a figure that would make Ole Miss’ third-year head coach one of the nation’s 10 highest-paid.
But a Monday report indicated Kiffin will soon leave Ole Miss to become the next head football coach at SEC divisional rival Auburn. Kiffin has denied that report, but other reports reveal that Kiffin is Auburn’s top target and will be offered a large contract imminently — even higher than the Ole Miss extension offer.
A higher annual salary would, of course, be a draw to any college coach. But according to Kiffin himself, available NIL funds have become the top consideration for coaches when deciding where to land or build a program.
“It used to be the stadium, conference, assistant pool, your salary … nope. First question should be, ‘What is your NIL structure?’” Kiffin told Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated in October.
Dellenger reported on Oct. 31 that Auburn announced more than $12 million in NIL pledges — still more than the $10 million Jones and the Grove Collective have recently reached. Other reports have suggested Auburn’s NIL figure is closer to $13 million.
But leaders at most NIL organizations have been purposefully vague about how much cash they’ve raised, couching publicly cited figures with vague language and accounting for long-term commitments in their totals.
“Some are putting out numbers, and it’s hard to know if those are projections or what,” Jones told Mississippi Today. “To be clear, this $10 million is all either current cash on hand, annual and monthly membership cash flow, and major gift pledges we’ll collect between now and Dec. 31. It’s what we can show for right now.”
Jones said the Grove Collective has partnered with more than 35 corporations at the national, regional and local levels. Those include companies like Realtree, Dunkin Donuts, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Wheels Up, and Blue Delta Jeans.
Meanwhile, football fans in Oxford will be closely watching what moves Kiffin makes in the coming hours.
“Regardless of what happens in the next few days, Ole Miss fans should take comfort knowing they have an extremely competitive, well-funded and organized collective platform that will compete with anyone in the SEC and around the country,” Jones said. “Our loyal fanbase has stepped up and answered the call, and we’re still working hard to raise even more.”