BYU athletes have a new NIL club and not every Cougar fan is happy about it

Provo NIL Club launched on Wednesday, with the backing of several BYU football players.

A new venture will give BYU football players a chance to make money off their name, image and likeness — but not everyone in Provo is happy about it.

Provo NIL Club, which was announced on Wednesday, was set up by a company called YOKE, a fast-growing business that specializes in creating websites and digital communities. Subscribers gain access to digital meet-and-greets and other player-created content.

Backup quarterback Jacob Conover and linebacker Max Tooley have so far been the most vocal supporters of YOKE, which promises to evenly compensate all athletes who participate.

“Many players on our team have come together to launch the Provo NIL Club,” Conover said in a video. “It is an online community that allows all of our fans to financially support the team and interact with those players.”

But YOKE’s arrival in Provo has been met with some pushback, including from another third-party collective.

“Imitation is the purest form of flattery I guess?” Jake Brandon, the founder of CougConnect, the first NIL collective for BYU donors, tweeted. “Kinda shocked honestly.”

So far the new initiative has collected less than $1,000 from donors, per the Provo NIL Club website. Still, its mere presence has quickly highlighted a fracture within the NIL space for BYU donors.

Brandon questions if YOKE has the best interests of the players at heart, or if the company is in compliance with NCAA rules.

“I’m skeptical on if there has been a bunch of money promised to [players] and if YOKE has gone through the proper procedures [with BYU’s compliance office],” Brandon told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It just feels a little bit rushed. But maybe they will be great.”

YOKE is in a land grab phase right now, quickly setting up as many NIL clubs as possible. It is up to 20 schools as of this week.

YOKE is essentially akin to Instagram or YouTube for NIL. It sets up the platform for players to profit, and takes a percentage of those profits every time somebody uses the platform. The platform fee is currently 18%.

Because of that high fee, players will see a lower percentage of the money they bring in.

It is a company that is moving fast in the NIL space, trying to take up as much real estate as possible.

“Well they’re a tech company with boat loads of money,” NIL attorney Ben Chase said. “They’re just a plug and play digital solution to NIL Collectives.”

The bigger question Brandon is asking is if YOKE is in compliance with NCAA rules.

Mick Assaf, the co-founder of YOKE, said the platform fee was a temporary measure. Eventually, YOKE would like the players to see a larger percentage of the money. The platform fee started at 25% and is now down to 18% as the company grows.

As for the compliance issue, Assaf argued that YOKE is not an NIL Collective and doesn’t have to follow the same channels. He did not say whether YOKE had contacted BYU.

“We are a creator platform,” Assaf said. “Our technology enables creators [in this case, players] to monetize. Every collective we have worked with, we have worked with the compliance office in some way shape and form. Different schools have different involvements from a compliance standpoint, but we have never had an issue.”

BYU said it wants to have more conversations with YOKE to review the terms of use for players, making sure it is in compliance with NCAA standards. Several experts have said YOKE’s terms of use allows it to keep the rights to athlete’s content for “perpetuity” without fair compensation.

“My understanding is that YOKE offered a whole variety of athletes roughly $20 in exchange for some sort of endorsement,” Darrent Heitner, a professor of sports law at the University of Florida, told The Gazette in Iowa. “The big thing that stuck out to me when I saw this post on YOKE was extensive rights that the athletes were providing. And not only the extent of those rights but that they were perpetual royalty free and irrevocable. For an athlete, not to be able to revoke that right at any point for the rest of that athlete’s life or career, it’s a concern, especially if the compensation is around $20.”

BYU is looking at the model YOKE uses in the next few days.

“I do plan on having conversations with our friends over there at YOKE in the next couple of days,” Gary Veron, an assosiate athletic director who works on NIL issues at BYU, said.

Veron also mentioned he is not yet sure if he sees any major red flags with YOKE.

“I’m not savvy enough to really answer that question definitely right now,” Veron said.