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The Mizzou Tiger Fund just got a big pay day. What does that mean?

Attempting to demystify the Tiger Fund. Is it NIL? Is it something else?

the don faurot statue outside the Mizzou football stadium
Mizzou had a $62 million bag dropped on them this week. How will that money be spent?
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Mizzou Athletics is currently Scrooge McDucking in their cash after an anonymous donor dropped a $62 million bag on the doorstep of Faurot Field earlier this week.

an animated gif of scrooge mcduck swimming in a pool of gold coins

With such a huge donation to Mizzou Athletics, questions abound about how that money can, will and should be spent. The athletics department made it clear in their release announcing the gift that $50 million of the gift would be spent on “Memorial Stadium improvements” while the remaining $12 million would go toward the Mizzou Tiger Fund.

So what is the Tiger Fund? Is it NIL or not? The answer seems to be a bit unclear, and it looks like Mizzou Athletics likes it that way.

Tiger (Fund)amentals

In short, the Mizzou Tiger Fund, which was founded last year, is a sub-fund of the long-standing Tiger Scholarship Fund (TSF), which raises money to support Mizzou student-athlete scholarships. The Tiger Fund, however, raises money for more direct athlete assistance. According to their website, the Tiger Fund supports travel, equipment, educational opportunities and programming, marketing programs (let’s flag this one), mental wellness support, and mental performance coaching.

A few of those items are pretty self-explanatory: it’s easy to see how a donor could give money to allow athletes access to mental health counseling or to support an educational program for financial wellness. But let’s take a look at the item we flagged: marketing programs. What is a marketing program? While it seems to be intentionally open to interpretation, reading between the lines an educated guesser could posit that this program is a way for Mizzou to “market” or connect their athletes with businesses and individuals interested in paying those athletes for their Name, Image and Likeness. If that is the case, the next question is: How is that legal? In short, according to NCAA NIL regulations, it is not. But, and this is Kim Kardashian-sized but, these marketing programs are legal in the state of Missouri.

A short (recent) history lesson

a photo of Gov. Mike Parson signs H.B. 417 in August 2023 with coaches Eli Drinkwitz, Dennis Gates and Robin Pingeton looking on.
Gov. Mike Parson signs H.B. 417 in August 2023 with coaches Eli Drinkwitz, Dennis Gates and Robin Pingeton looking on.
Dave Matter, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Remember way back in the antiquity of August 2023? A bygone age. A simpler time before Taylor Swift cared about Kansas City football and Eli Drinkwitz had a sub .500 record at Mizzou. Missouri state lawmakers passed and signed trailblazing NIL legislation that promised to boost Mizzou’s recruiting stature. The item in that bill that received the most attention was legalization of high school recruits earning NIL money the second they signed paperwork to attend a school, rather than waiting until they were enrolled and on campus.

However, there is another nugget included in H.B. 417: the bill allows schools in Missouri to actively participate in the NIL deals of athletes. More specifically, athletic departments are allowed to “identify, create, facilitate, negotiate, support, enable, or otherwise assist” student-athletes in profiting off their NIL. While this new law does not give athletic departments the ability to pay athletes directly for their NIL, they are empowered to help athletes maximize their NIL opportunities in any other way that they can.

As mentioned earlier, this NIL flexibility is not strictly allowed by current NCAA regulations. However, also included in H.B. 417 is a provision that challenges the NCAA and other organizations’ ability to enforce any NIL restrictions on schools in Missouri. This means that the first time the NCAA comes sniffing around the Mizzou Tiger Fund, as they have recently with Tennessee and Florida State, Mizzou has at least some modicum of legal protection. Will that mean anything in a federal court? That’s a question for lawyers and judges to decide, but this legal protection is more than any other school has currently.

Murky Math

So what does all this legal mumbo jumbo have to do with Mizzou sports? Well let’s get back to the Tiger Fund. Now that the Mizzou athletics department has at least some legal backing, they have created an innovative way to maximize their athletes’ NIL opportunities through the support of private donations. The recent boon of $12 million to the Tiger Fund can and will be leveraged by the department to do just that. Now, our last, and perhaps most important question: How will that money be spent? The answer to that is a resounding “Who knows?”

One feature of the Tiger Fund is that it allows donors to either designate a specific sport (or sports) to support, or to put their money in a larger pot to be used for all Mizzou athletes. Mizzou did not specify which pot or pots that $12 million dollars would go into or how it would be spent. Because the larger chunk of the donation is supporting football facilities improvements, it would be a safe bet that most, if not all, of that $12 million is going into the football pot, but no one outside of the AD can know for sure.

Regardless of which pot that money is dropped in, the bigger question is how far will $12 million go in maximizing NIL opportunities for athletes? Since it’s (kind of) clear that that money won’t be directly cashed out by current and future football players, how can that money be used to leverage contracts for athletes that do result in fattening their wallets? The answer is murky, and I think Desiree Reed-Francois, Eli Drinkwitz and Mizzou fans should be just fine with that.