By Audrey Snyder, Click HERE to view full article

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — It’s part of the reason why the revamped We Are NIL collective — formerly Nittany Commonwealth — is no longer competing with the Success With Honor collective.

Instead, We Are NIL is now working to offer football players permanent total disability insurance. When the collective re-launched earlier this month, it was believed to be the first to buy disability insurance for athletes. Right tackle Caedan Wallace was the first player to be insured through the collective. Safety Ji’Ayir Brown has done work through the collective but was already insured separately, said Michael Krentzman, founder of We Are NIL.

“I’m trying to think of how we can differentiate ourselves and demonstrate the values that I’m trying to make sure are built right into the fabric of this thing,” Krentzman said. “People say, ‘How do you compete with the SEC schools?’ Well, as best as you can. … It’s like, ‘Hey, we care about you, we’re going to invest in you, we want to make you better.’”

Total disability insurance could be an enticing benefit for many football players, but the reality is not everyone can or will be insured. Pre-existing conditions or previous injuries can exclude a player. A player also has to be deemed valuable enough to be granted an insurance policy.

Krentzman would not disclose the cost associated with purchasing a policy, but he said the policies cover players both on and off the field. Should someone sustain a catastrophic injury while walking to practice, that would be taken care of under the policy.

Making sure any 18- to 22 year-old sets aside enough time to complete all the necessary paperwork for the policy and to do so truthfully is one hurdle that the collective faces. They also learned of an interesting tax wrinkle while first working through this.

“If we pay for the policy in the name of the student and God forbid they have to collect on the policy, the proceeds are taxed,” Krentzman said. “If the student buys the policy and we reimburse the student, all proceeds from cashing in that policy are not taxed. They keep 100 percent.”

So, this is now done as a simultaneous transaction so the player could reap all the tax-free rewards of the policy while also not having to wait on what likely would be a significant amount of money being reimbursed. The goal is to insure as many football players as the collective possibly can.

“I want to make sure the program is as steady and successful and helped by this as we possibly can,” Krentzman said. “I remember what the Dark Ages looked like in State College when the football was terrible, and that’s at the heart of why I’m doing this.”

Players who work with the We Are NIL collective will not be exclusive to them. Krentzman said they’re willing to have their lawyers look over deals players might be working to secure elsewhere. He also said they’ll have people willing to help athletes from all sports try to bolster their brand, if they so choose.

Thinking of players and position groups in terms of brands is what former Penn State cornerback Justin King has spent the past several years working through.

King, who joined Penn State’s recruiting department for two years starting in 2017, learned the power of individual brands first-hand during his time on the staff. While Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley were the faces of the team, King kept getting asked about someone else when he’d interact with recruits.

“The first person that any recruit outside of the area recognized was not Saquon Barkley,” King said. “It was Marcus Allen. Number 2 was who they knew from Penn State. That just blew my mind a little because everything on the field you’d think Saquon, but the whole branding thing, people knew about Marcus.”

The safety who blocked Ohio State’s field goal attempt to spark Penn State’s Big Ten title run in 2016 was also the charismatic mastermind behind the team’s popular locker room celebrations. His videos gave fans a peek behind the curtain and became so popular that there were conversations within the program about whether or not the team’s in-house social media should post the videos before Allen did to try to maximize the traffic to them.

Allen, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, would’ve been an NIL darling in State College in part because he had a large online following dating back to his Vine videos as a high-schooler. He was funny and fun-loving as a college player, the same person whether he was on the field or walking around downtown.

Realizing that there can be packaging around an athlete to help bolster their brand and image is what King said he learned when he left Penn State and worked for the XFL. King hopes to bring to group licensing to his alma mater.

“Vince McMahon creates characters out of thin air, puts a person in their place, and they just build a brand around it,” King said. “Whether it’s storytelling, the background of it, the music that goes along with it, it’s how they attract people.”

In King’s mind, Penn State has long done this, whether by design or not. Linebacker U is what King would refer to as a legacy silo. More recently, the running backs, referred to as the LawnBoyz, would fall into a similar category. Players come to be Penn State to be part of those brands. They could also benefit from them. King’s goal is to package certain position groups, starting with the one that means most to him: the cornerbacks.

Last year, King said he trademarked “Lockdown U” with hopes of having the name stick for the corners. He knows that for those now sitting in his old seat in the recruiting department trying pitch to recruits that Penn State will have something in place for specific position groups should help the program in the NIL race, he said. His stepfather, Terry Smith, is Penn State’s cornerbacks coach and one of the team’s two recruiting coordinators.

King said he has already signed agreements with Kalen King and Daequan Hardy. He would like to add Joey Porter Jr., who could become the first Penn State cornerback to ever be drafted in the first round.

At the crux of what King is trying to do is the very thing Krentzman, Ganter, Success With Honor and others are also working on. Penn State can’t afford to fall behind, not after being slow to adapt to NIL, not as the rest of the schools they’re competing against continue to evolve too.

“We got to make sure our guys are taken care of,” Ganter said. “I know what we’re doing is important and I feel a responsibility to be successful for those guys out there.”