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Valiant, U-M alumni create Champions Circle: incentive-based NIL program

The NIL game continues to grow at Michigan.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 04 Big Ten Championship Game - Michigan v Iowa Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Announced Friday afternoon, Valiant Management Group — a company started up by former Michigan Wolverines football player Jared Wangler that helps Michigan student-athletes land Name, Image and Likeness deals — announced it has partnered with several alumni to create a new NIL program called the Champions Circle.

The U-M alumni worked with Valiant to, “research, develop and raise substantial funds for the most comprehensive and sustainable NIL development program in the country,” according to a press release. The exact dollar value raised was not given.

“We believe strongly that it is important to reward University of Michigan student-athletes for the value they bring to the university, but in keeping with Michigan traditions, it is also important to help the athletes develop the personal, leadership and financial skills to succeed far into the future,” Wangler said. “Our coaches recruit the right student-athletes to the University of Michigan, and the Champions Circle will support their efforts by rewarding sustained educational achievement and personal development. We are confident this model can be replicated across all varsity sports at the University of Michigan.”

The model Wangler refers to is an incentive-based one. This program focuses on current Michigan student-athletes and will compensate them for their on- and off-the-field performances, including their overall individual development, academic successes and community leadership, according to a press release.

For example, the Champions Circle will give “dedicated annual funds” towards student-athletes at Michigan on a sport-specific basis for NIL-related opportunities, such as meet-and-greets, Q/A sessions, autographs/photos and more.

This NIL program is not designed to be used as a direct recruiting tool, since it’s only for student-athletes already at Michigan. So that means Michigan coaches who are recruiting high schoolers or players in the transfer portal cannot entice them with a specific amount of money, like the devil Nick Saban alluded to last month with Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M and Deion Sanders at Jackson State.

However, it can be used as an indirect recruiting tool. I’d imagine the way they’d sell it to recruits is to have current players tell the recruits they made a good amount of money from the Champions Circle and that they can too if they choose the University of Michigan.

In a story by Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News, Nate Forbes — one of the alumni involved in this — said the goal of this NIL program is to, “retain our players who have a desire to get a Michigan education, participate in Michigan athletics and be rewarded as such. That’s what we’ve tried to do.”

So, again, this program is not designed for players in high school or the transfer portal. But it seems like a major point of emphasis, other than paying the players for their accomplishments academically and on the field, is to entice them to not enter the transfer portal if another school comes calling with more guaranteed money up front.

Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy is also a supporter of this incentive-based NIL program, telling Chengelis that, “If the (recruit) wants to be here and he wants to play and work hard, we’re welcoming him in with open arms. But if he wants a check, he’s fine going somewhere else.”

Those are some pretty strong words by McCarthy, one of the leaders of the team. He has had plentiful NIL opportunities in his first year at Michigan, but he has also donated a lot of his earnings. He even inspired Jim Harbaugh to do the same with his bonus money after beating Ohio State and winning the Big Ten Championship this past season. The fact McCarthy is onboard with this is great for the university, so perhaps he could help sell this kind of program to future Wolverines.

This is a very unique approach to the NIL game. It certainly isn’t the pay-for-play method a lot of other schools use, but this is a step forward as far as evolving how NIL is used at Michigan. Will it work? Only time will tell, but it is certainly innovative, intriguing and worth watching moving forward.