Utah football looks to level up its recruiting efforts with new Crimson Collective

Crimson Collective has the endorsement of the University of Utah and its athletic department

The way Kyle Whittingham sees it, recruiting is the most important facet of winning in college football — and the Utah football coach believes that a program’s NIL resources are the biggest advantage or disadvantage in recruiting right now.

To help make his point about the importance of the NCAA’s new name, image and likeness rules, Whittingham looks back to just last year.

“We probably lost six to eight recruits that we would have gotten had we had more resources available to us,” Whittingham told The Salt Lake Tribune this week.

Some potential help for such a problem will arrive on Friday with the launch of the Crimson Collective, a new football-specific NIL collective backed by some high-profile donors and alumni.

Not long after the NCAA began allowing student-athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness in the summer of 2021, Matt Garff could see where things were headed.

Collectives engineered and operated with the backing of alumni, donors, and boosters began popping up across the country, helping to get student-athletes paid for their NIL. Utah, which entered the NIL space initially with its Elevate U program and later with Elevate Exchange, was not collective-heavy at the start of all this, but the 1999 University of Utah graduate sought to change that.

On Friday afternoon, the Crimson Collective was launched with Garff as the founder, Colorado Rockies owner and 1982 Utah graduate Charlie Monfort as the board chair, and a new slew of notable Ute alums as part of the board of directors.

“I started looking into this because I could see the need for it as far back as a year and a half ago,” Garff told The Salt Lake Tribune Friday afternoon before the launch event. “... It’s continuing to evolve and continuing to grow, and that’s how the best ideas come to fruition, they’re always the evolution of the idea.”

Added Monfort before the event: “Being in on what I consider the ground floor and watching it progress is I think very important, and let’s face it, we need to get up to speed so we can explain to the community, the businesses, the alumni, supporters what exactly we’re doing, what exactly the money is for. It’s not simply money for athletes. No, it’s money for them to increase, enhance their educational experience. That’s how I’m looking at this entire process.”

The Crimson Collective is at least the fourth Utah football collective across the local landscape, but there are major differences between this one and the others.

This one has powerful backing behind it, most notably from Garff and Monfort, but the group’s board of directors also includes Utah luminaries from the football program (Eric Weddle, Kevin Dyson, Alex Smith), as well as outside the sports realm.

Maybe most importantly, the Crimson Collective has the support and endorsement of the University of Utah and its athletic department.

Garff told a story Friday of reaching out to Smith, arguably the greatest quarterback in Utah history and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, to inquire if he would want to serve on the board of directors. Smith said he would, but then turned around and asked if athletic director Mark Harlan and the University of Utah were endorsing the collective. Harlan and the U. could not officially endorse it at that time, but the NCAA soon updated its NIL guidelines to allow an endorsement to happen.

After that, Smith got on board, as did Weddle, Monfort, and the rest of the power players associated with the endeavor.

“Winning always helps in everything that we do, but I do think there’s something more to this program that people in this community also understand,” Harlan said. “We’re talking about a program that graduates 93%. We’re talking about a program that does a lot of great things. Right now, we’re obviously at a very high mark competitively, so it’s our job to continue to keep it that way, but I think people I think this program is deeper than just the wins.”

Collectives, often with big money and big resources behind them, have become the norm across the Power Five landscape. Utah has now joined that club in an effort to continue what it has done a lot of in the very recent past, win, not to mention challenge for the Pac-12 championship on an annual basis.

“Yeah, we got a late start, there’s no doubt about it, and we’re playing catch-up right now,” Whittingham said. “Hopefully, we can get things up and running sooner rather than later and get ourselves into a situation where we can be competitive in that arena.

“As I said, recruiting is at the forefront right now and all indications are it’s here to stay. It really doesn’t matter if you like it, or don’t like it, believe in it, don’t believe in it, it’s here, and you better embrace it. Like I said, that’s the driving force behind recruiting. Parents, players, they’re very interested in that, obviously. They want to know what the NIL situation is at your particular school, almost always.”

The Crimson Collective represents the third sport-specific collective at the University of Utah, joining the women’s gymnastics team’s Who Rocks The House Collective, and the men’s basketball team’s Running Hoops Collective.

Running Hoops has been established, but is still in its infancy. Who Rocks The House, at the time of its formation the only gymnastics-specific collective in the country, has a little more experience in the arena the football program is about to walk into.

“The most glaring thing they’re doing differently, as in the collective, is that they’re engaging in community activity and then compensating our athletes,” Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden told The Tribune. “They did a Girls on the Run Day, we had a Special Olympics day where they rented out the gym, we went to a nursing home and played cards for an afternoon, that type of stuff.

“That’s community enhancement, enrichment, things like that is how our athletes are getting compensated through the collective.”