The Runners Rising Project: What We’re About and Where We’re Going

The landscape of college sports in America has fundamentally changed.  With the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in NCAA v. Alston on 21 June 2021, name, image, and likeness opportunities (colloquially known as N.I.L.) are now legal for collegiate-level student athletes to pursue.  In this emerging landscape, fortune smiles upon those who act.  

Immediately after the passing of Division I’s early signing day (15 December 2021), chatter in forums, on social media, and traditional media focused on the impact that NIL had on the day, and what the implications were and are for college athletics going forward.  It breaks down to two camps:  you’re either for it thanks to the power that it places in the hands of student-athletes to direct their futures and create wealth for themselves, or it’s the death of college athletics as we know it, where schools with money, fanbases, and booster support will pull away from smaller schools without the same kind of financial support (read, the continued Power 5 vs the Group of 5 conversation).

The fanbase of UTSA was no different, with voices in group chats and online forums lamenting how UTSA stands no chance in the face of the UT-Austins of the world, or the SMUs, who allegedly sit on mountains of cash.  The underlying fear is we cannot compete in this new world…and it is that, fear—fear of the unknown, fear of what the future of NIL looks like for UTSA, fear of losing the momentum the University has gained through its football program over the last 10 years, will have been for nothing…but in this new world, we cannot be ruled by fear.  If we are to compete, we must act with an abundance mindset…the opportunity is out there, and we must step forward into the future and take that action today or be left in the dust by competition and our indecisiveness.  It is this vein of action which gave birth to the Runners Rising Project.

The Runners Rising Project originated from the conversations of people tied to the venerable “Bird Gang” Tailgate of the Alamodome’s Lot C, in a group chat the Wednesday before New Years 2022.  The morning’s discussion surrounded NIL’s potential impact to UTSA’s competitiveness, and how the university appeared behind such opportunities compared to other schools.  Half joking, someone mentioned the Tailgate should sponsor an athlete, or rather, a rotation of athletes.  The pitch was simple:  Once a month, identify a “Bird Gang Athlete”, with the members of the Bird Gang pooling for a couple hundred bucks for an interview and a picture, for these athletes in turn to act as the face of the tailgate.  However, as soon as the message was sent, the group realized the significance of the opportunity and urgency in its timing.  Planning immediately began.  A few days later, a draft business plan was created, an initial cadre of volunteers signed on, and the momentum has only increased to getting The Runners Rising Project airborne.

What started as a half-hearted joke and call to action has, as of 9 February 2022 according to The Business of College Sports, emerged as one of twenty six NIL Collectives supporting Division I College Athletics, one of four supporting Group of 5 Universities, and the only NIL Collective supporting a Conference USA school.  From action, the Runners Rising Project was born, and through continued action it will strive to support UTSA’s student athletes, and provide the University the support needed to maintain competitive advantage.

In the style of Leadership therorist and motivational speaker Simon Sinek, here’s a few questions and answers to what the Runners Rising Project is about.  As Simon starts with why, so do we.

WHY?  We’re here to help develop and empower UTSA’s student athletes to assist in molding them into tomorrow’s leaders.

HOW?  We intend to meet this goal through engagement with UTSA’s fanbase and the San Antonio community to create and facilitate NIL opportunities for UTSA student athletes via direct contributions, individual mentorship, and outreach to local business interests on potential partnerships with student athletes.

WHAT?  The Runners Rising Project is a privately owned and fan operated not-for-profit NIL Collective supporting and lobbying for UTSA’s student athletes. 

Our key questions answered and out of the way, the following is our mission, intent, and vision.  These terms, stemming from military planning and leadership development, are what provide the path which the Runners Rising Project is guided along.

MISSION:  Establish Connections.  Our mission is to connect fans and businesses with UTSA student athletes to facilitate NIL opportunities and direct mentorship in order to grow community leaders, and grow the relationship between UTSA athletics and the City of San Antonio.

INTENT:  Support and Develop Leaders.  Our intent is to support and develop leadership capabilities and NIL opportunities for UTSA student athletes via fan donations, business outreach, and the direct mentorship of student athletes.

VISION:  Be San Antonio’s best.  We strive to be the go-to NIL contribution interface, leadership development, and networking apparatus for student athletes, UTSA’s fans, and San Antonio-based business interests.

Finally, and most importantly, we are a values-based organization.  These principles are what guide every decision we make. In our organic opportunities, the student-athletes we partner with will exemplify these values.

These values are as follows.

Integrity:  Total contribution amounts will be open and available to public scrutiny.  The Runners Rising Project’s interactions with UTSA’s student athletes and San Antonio business interests will follow all guidelines laid out by National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), Texas state laws, and UTSA policies regarding NIL opportunities and contributions.  We will not engage in “pay for play” policies, engage with prospective UTSA student athletes, or take actions to jeopardize the career of student-athletes or the success and eligibility of UTSA athletics at large.

Inclusivity:  We will provide and advocate for opportunities for student-athletes across all of UTSA’s sports, regardless of gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or creed.

Action:  We operate and lead with initiative and a disposition to act.  Our driving question is to ask “What can we do?”, then do those things.  We move to inspire others to act. 

Community:  This is about building the community, the city, the university, and tying those together into one thing, with the student-athlete at the center.   We promote all things UTSA and San Antonio for the development and empowerment of student athletes.

Leadership:  We are leaders and trailblazers in the emerging NIL-space.  We in turn strive to develop and mentor student athletes by providing access to community leaders including UTSA alumni and fans in the banking sector, Military Officers, Information Technology (IT), former student athletes, and other industries to help grow and mentor these young adults to help them be successful after their time at UTSA.

In short, this is what the Runners Rising Project is about:  Supporting the student-athletes and rallying San Antonio around them and UTSA.  

We’re fans with day jobs, but our passion for this University, our passion for our home-city, and ultimately our desire to see both flourish is what has driven us to pour our time, our money, and our effort into the establishment of something with the potential to do good for UTSA, UTSA’s student-athletes, and the city of San Antonio.  The Runners Rising Project is simply the answer to the question “What can I do?”. 

However, we can’t do it alone.  With your help and support, we will all look back on this in the future and say we created opportunity for our student-athletes, we provided the competitive edge for UTSA as it enters the American Athletic Conference and beyond, and we created something the 2-1-0 will rally around for generations after ours.  It all starts here.  

This is our action…what now will be yours?

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