Penguin Collective’s Basketball Arm Among Best at Raising NIL Funds
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – A group raising money for Name, Image and Likeness payments to Youngstown State University basketball players is doing so at a faster rate than almost all of its counterparts at mid-major schools nationwide.
The Penguin Collective’s basketball fund has already amassed $330,000 from local businesses, organizations and supporters, said Rocco Nolfi, who is in charge of it.
And the money keeps coming in, said Nolfi, a YSU alumnus who owns an Allstate Insurance company in Boardman. He expects it will hit the half-million mark by next week.
“I’m getting $25,000 checks every day,” Nolfi said. “We will be in the top 10 for mid-major universities. For a school our size, that’s huge.”
The money will ensure that the men’s and women’s basketball teams will continue to attract top athletes and continue their winning ways. The men’s team is coming off its best season in two decades.
Most recently, the collective received a $200,000 check from Servpro Team Dobson – by far its largest check to date. The Mahoning Valley-based Servpro franchise is owned and operated by Jim Dobson and his family.
Dobson saw the excitement raised by the basketball team this winter and was motivated to keep it going.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and I saw the community come together [over YSU basketball] in a way I had never seen before,” Dobson said. “I saw the effect it had on the university and the downtown, and I thought, ‘We could do something special.’”
He hopes the Penguin Collective can create an atmosphere at YSU that can continue indefinitely.
“The whole environment at the games, how people came together, was intoxicating,” Dobson said. “We want to keep it going, and if we can’t, it won’t be for lack of support.”
How It Works
NIL funds go to athletes as compensation for their use in marketing and advertising by local companies. Nolfi calls it the way to keep success going.
“The key is support from local business,” Nolfi said.
“If you want a team to continue to win, you have to support it. Otherwise, it will fall by the wayside.”
Potential players deciding on which school to attend take notice, Nolfi said. They are aware of how much money each school has in its NIL pot.
“Nowadays, nothing supports the sports programs more than NIL,” he said. “It has changed the whole landscape of college athletics.”
Those who donate to the Penguin Collective will have access to the players for commercial purposes, although the level of access and the players they can use depends on how much they give.
Nolfi’s agency created a TV ad and billboard that used several of the school’s best-known athletes, including hoops player Dwayne Cohill, and Maddie Aulbach of the women’s hoops team.
The Penguin Collective was launched by HD Davis CPAs of Liberty. Tim Petrey, president of HD Davis, directs the NIL fund for the YSU football team.
The collective acts as a marketing agency, pairing businesses with athletes, creating contracts and financial plans for both sides and making sure they comply with NCAA rules.
“This allows business owners to support the program in a way where their business can receive some marketing value in exchange for their contributions,” Petrey said.
He is working to ensure the football fund catches up to the runaway success of basketball.
“We are hopeful that the football fund will follow suit quickly,” Petrey said. To boost the effort, the football fund will present an event on May 9 that will be livestreamed on Facebook to educate potential participants about the packages available to support the football players.
“The football fund is off to a much slower start with only a few thousand dollars raised so far,” Petrey said. “We are hoping to get out in the community this summer to get some more partners signed on.”
Petrey said most people do not realize the challenges student-athletes face in meeting expenses, even those on scholarships.
“They have to juggle school work, family life and a very rigorous training program to keep their roster spots,” he said.
Funds in the NIL collective can support all athletes with basic needs such as transportation, food and housing, and help them minimize the debt they incur.
“Our [YSU] athletes are not receiving huge NIL deals like some of the major-market programs, but any assistance goes a really long way for these kids,” Petrey said.
The Penguin Collective is also launching a nonprofit arm, The United Penguins Foundation, Petrey said. The foundation will allow for individuals to give monetary donations or make bequeathments from their estates, and specify how their gifts are used.
The collective also has a general fund that can support all YSU teams, although it is in its infancy.
“We have not started to build any specific funds outside of basketball and football,” Petrey said. “We wanted to get these up and running first as these programs garner the most attention at the university and have the broadest levels of support.”
Petrey said the Penguin Collective was created out of necessity and will uplift the entire region – not just YSU athletes.
“I realized that if we are late to this game, then our university will ultimately suffer, which means our area will suffer,” he said.
“Whether or not you agree with the concept of collegiate athletes making money, it is here to stay, and in order to remain competitive we need to ensure that we are supporting our programs every way we can to give them the best chance of success.”
The collective also educates student-athletes on finances, legal aspects and marketing to help them succeed after their playing days are over.
“We are doing all of this work 100% pro bono,” Petrey said. “We feel strongly that by doing this work it will ultimately benefit the community that we all love to be a part of.”
Petrey pointed out that many HD Davis staffers are YSU alumni, and they see the Penguin Collective as an opportunity to use the skills they learned at the school to support it.
“We may not be in a position to write a huge check, but we have been able to absorb the administrative costs of the Penguin Collective to ensure we put as much money as possible in our student athletes’ pockets,” he said.
It must be stressed that the Penguin Collective is not affiliated with YSU, but is a private venture.
“YSU is excited to have an NIL collective to support our student-athletes,” said Tyler Burk, YSU’s NIL compliance officer.
The athletic department has a good working relationship with the collective, Burk said, and keeps it in compliance with state, NCAA and YSU policies.
Pictured at top: From left, Andrew Dobson and Jim Dobson of Servpro Team Dobson, and Rocco Nolfi, head of the Penguin Collective basketball arm, pose with a $200,000 check from Dobson.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.