Collective an essential resource for badgers in the new era



MADISON, Wis. – All sorts of dramatic changes are happening under his watch, but when it comes to Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh, the list of things he holds sacred won’t be changed.

McIntosh still wants all 23 UW sports to compete at a championship level on an annual basis.

He still wants Wisconsin student-athletes to believe in the primacy of a degree and the life-changing opportunities that come with owning one.

He always wants everyone who represents the Badgers, regardless of their job description, to do things the right way.

“These things won’t change,” McIntosh said. “How we deliver them and in what form will evolve.”

The introduction of Name, Image and Likeness Protocols in July 2021 – whereby student-athletes in all sports are free to monetize their personalities through endorsements and endorsements without jeopardizing their NCAA eligibility – affects how every university athletic department conducts its affairs.

For UW, that means creating pathways for its student-athletes to maximize their NIL potential while strengthening the Badgers brand through the emotional and financial support of its unique fan base. Playing a key role in these efforts is The university collectivean entity formed by a group of UW alumni that aims to “write the definitive playbook on how Badgers student-athletes deserve to be supported in the NIL era.”

“It will be a different level of commitment to succeed going forward,” McIntosh said. “For me, that’s exciting. I feel the desire to do that across the Wisconsin landscape.”

Joe Thomas addresses the crowd at the Varsity Collective Introductory Event

The enabling football program will continue to be a top priority as a new era dawns. In addition to NIL, the Big Ten Conference is set to become a coast-to-coast behemoth with the addition of UCLA and USC in 2024, a new indoor training facility adjacent at Camp Randall Stadium is on the drawing board and McIntosh, in his second year in the job, is preparing to hire his first football head coach.

“This is an opportunity to write the next chapter of Wisconsin football in these changing times we live in,” he said. “The intersection of these things, I think, creates an incredible opportunity to propel our program into the future.

“If we want to have a healthy (athletic) department, if we want to provide opportunities at the level we have today, that has to include a healthy football program, a program that people are passionate about, a program that our children succeed.”

McIntosh seeks to unite a variety of audiences – fans and supporters, donors, university community, coaches and staff, current student-athletes and their families, rookies and their families, and former student-athletes – behind the project.

Key goals involve an increased commitment to investing in student-athletes through NIL, particularly contributing to The Varsity Collective; the underwriting of a new practice center; and fill the Camp Randall stadium.

The Varsity Collective, unveiled in September, collaborates with UW student-athletes for NIL partnerships and charitable efforts that benefit both the student-athlete and causes that support Wisconsin communities. It also aims to provide student-athletes with access to mentorship and opportunities to learn from professionals at the top of their industry through UW’s extensive alumni network.

fans can contribute to the cause by helping to fund the collective’s efforts to support student-athletes directly through NIL.

“As much now as ever, we need the commitment of our fans to support our programs, and with the changes ahead of us, we need that support as much as ever,” McIntosh said. “Student-athletes are at the center of what we do. Our program benefits when our fans are committed to supporting these types of opportunities for our student-athletes.

“I am grateful for the support our fans have given our student-athletes. Given the challenges, it is important that our fans remain as committed as ever to supporting our programs.”

McIntosh and his administrative staff spent a lot of time explaining the NIL movement to UW fans.

“There was quite a bit of confusion at first and I can understand why,” McIntosh said. “From the perspective of our fans, what they read in the media that’s happening in other programs, that conflicts with our approach here and often with what’s even allowed (under NCAA rules) .

“Change is often difficult and takes a lot of energy to understand what we’re going through. I think, to a large extent, our fans have embraced this new era of college athletics as it relates to NIL.

“When we had the opportunity to explain our approach, how it’s one piece of a bigger puzzle here in Wisconsin, I think our fans left excited about that.”

There’s no questioning the commitment of UW student-athletes, and giving them every opportunity to succeed is McIntosh’s number one priority. Having Wisconsin fans match that dedication emotionally and financially is the goal going forward.

“The context has changed,” McIntosh said. “It’s a different kind of challenge. It’s a new challenge. While some things will remain the same, we need our fans and supporters excited about the potential, excited about the possibilities and, therefore, excited to support our program and our student-athletes in various ways.

“The main directors have not changed. It is how we are allowed to support our children today and it is how we will need our fans to support them that has changed.”

McIntosh, a former Wisconsin football captain and All-American, said UW Athletics tries to make sure “everyone has a place in our ecosystem.” This includes the 35-year-old subscription holder, the recent graduate, and everyone in between.

“It’s a priority to ensure the long-term success of our department and all the programs that depend on it,” McIntosh said. “As a microcosm of that, think about the football program and how important it is to fill the stadium, how important it is to be part of something exciting and how much that excitement generates support for our student-athletes beyond football.

“If you have a long-term view of this, which I do, then the focus is on continued attraction of fans and supporters of the program. We’ve been stewards of this place for a while and we have to continually attract support for our long-term program.

“It comes in the form of honoring those things that are sacred here while also adapting to a changing world. I think there’s a place for everyone in this equation.”


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