Leistikow's 5 thoughts on new 'Iowa Swarm Collective,' including equal pay for athletes
IOWA CITY — Tuesday morning, a lot of head-coaching firepower exited the elevators on the sixth floor of the Courtyard Marriott across from Kinnick Stadium.
Kirk Ferentz, football coach at Iowa since 1999.
Lisa Bluder, women’s basketball coach at Iowa since 2000.
Fran McCaffery, men’s basketball coach at Iowa since 2010.
Combined, that trio will have six decades of Hawkeye head-coaching experience by the end of the 2022-23 school year — Ferentz 24 years, Bluder 23 and McCaffery 13. So, it was notable that they were on hand to support the launch of the new “Iowa Swarm Collective” that will, in turn, support their major-sports programs.
“I want to empower these coaches to stay competitive and win championships,” Brad Heinrichs, the almost happenstance CEO of the collective which will provide financial support to athletes (in football and basketball) in exchange for their work to support local charities. United Way representatives also were on hand Tuesday.
"That’s why they’re here. And that’s why a lot of these student-athletes came to Iowa, to get a great education and win championships.”
While Tuesday’s announcement was a long time coming, it was good to hear official details and learn how it'll operate. With that in mind, here are five answers/thoughts to questions you might be asking.
How did the collective come together and how will it work?
As mentioned, it was telling that Ferentz, Bluder and McCaffery fully support the way this collective was constructed. That’s a credit to Heinrichs, who is an actuary by trade in Fort Myers, Florida, and a former University of Iowa golfer.
A fan who religiously followed UI sports under the screen name “Tx_Hawk” at HawkeyeReport.com’s message boards, Heinrichs became active in discussions to launch an outside-the-university collective, one that could support Hawkeye sports in a new way in a new era in which college athletes are allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness.
While a few unnamed ex-football players got the discussions rolling, there wasn’t enough follow-through happening (you probably remember the angst among Hawkeye fans in April, May and June). So, Heinrichs told the group, “Give me the keys for 30 days and let me set things up.”
And they pretty much let him drive the car from there, and now the “Iowa Swarm Collective” has a CEO (Heinrichs will take no salary and has contributed $100,000 to the cause), a full-time COO in Scott Brickman (a former Iowa baseball assistant coach who became a fund-raiser for the UI Foundation) and vice president of events and engagement in Jayne Oswald (previously director of events at Iowa).
Brickman and Oswald gave up their university jobs and benefits to essentially start fresh with an entity that operates outside (yet with) the university.
“It’s a closer opportunity to work with our student-athletes,” Oswald said. “… NIL is so exciting and new. It’s helping them maximize that potential.”
Heinrichs and Brickman will essentially be raising money and sometimes going after the same donor dollars the Iowa athletics director Gary Barta is pursuing. It’ll be interesting to how donors choose to channel their money: Throw it directly to the university to support facilities and to get better seats at games? Or to player compensation through a collective? (Heinrichs said the group is awaiting IRS approval on such donations being tax-deductible.)
“Iowa people are very giving. I go to the bowl games, and I see Iowa people everywhere,” Heinrichs said. “… I think they’ll be willing to help us on our journey here.”
Equal pay for each athlete was a top-line theme from Tuesday’s interviews.
That was important to Heinrichs and all three coaches. Ferentz was adamant that every player on his football roster — from starting quarterback to walk-on long snapper — would be eligible to earn the same amount of pay from the NIL collective. That may seem counter-intuitive compared to pro sports, but Iowa is embracing this type of approach as consistent with how it has operated in the past.
“We want to be inclusive,” Ferentz said. “That’s been the strength of our team historically, that everybody has a role.”
McCaffery and Bluder are enthusiastically on board. The fact that women’s basketball players at Iowa will be paid the same amount as football players is a big deal.
“I know that this is one of the few, if not one of the first, that is putting all three of those (sports) on an equitable field,” Iowa associate women’s coach Jan Jensen said. “That’s a testament of our people and the way that we think around here. Kirk and Fran and Lisa, we’re all for everybody.
“I’m really grateful of and proud of that. I think that shows how much people value women’s basketball in this community.”
McCaffery also made the point of saying that, in his mind, going out to pay big bucks for a big man in the transfer portal might sound good to fans but it creates more issues for him as a coach. Like Ferentz, McCaffery thinks taking care of current roster players should be the priority.
“I'm not going to pay a ton of money for a (portal) guy and pay Kris Murray, Patrick McCaffrey and Tony Perkins less. I’m not doing it,” McCaffery said. “Some will say, ‘Hey, it’s a bidding war. We need a 5.’
“I’m willing to get into a competitive market. But I’m not going to have issues in my own locker room in doing so. We’re not going to do that.”
So ... everyone will make exactly the same?
McCaffery did say he would be open to tweaking the format down the road for men’s basketball.
But to help understand how it'll function …
There are two branches to the organization that Heinrichs is leading — the non-profit piece (which was discussed and embraced by coaches Tuesday) that will benefit charities and a “Swarm Inc” branch that will help marketable athletes maximize earning potential.
Heinrichs, Brickman and Oswald are raising funds to support both aspects. For example, recent Iowa football commitment Kadyn Proctor didn’t have any NIL deal in place when he chose the Hawkeyes. But when he arrives next January, he could try to secure a big-dollar deal through “Swarm Inc.” to endorse a local business. Same with women’s star Caitlin Clark, for example.
Let’s say a fast-food joint wanted to pay football punter Tory Taylor to endorse its product. The business would pay “Swarm Inc” and they’ll make sure Taylor does the commercials and then would release the money to him.
“We’ll make sure the contract is legitimate,” Heinrichs said. “We’re somewhat paternalistic to make sure they don’t sign deals that are no good for them. We’ll try to get them opportunities.”
Also, there will be a certain bar that the collective sets for athletes to meet with their charity work. If the athlete gets to the bar, he or she will be paid in full.
“If they don’t do any work or attend any charity events, well, they’re not going to get paid,” Heinrichs noted. “In terms of what their opportunities are, they’ll all be the same.”
Getting this off the ground was “critical” for football recruiting, Ferentz said.
While Ohio State coach Ryan Day, for example, was throwing out figures like $13 million that was needed to support his football roster, folks were wondering when Iowa was going to get into the collective game.
Ferentz’s methodical approach was mimicked by the Iowa Swarm Collective. Yes, it took time, but the representatives of all three programs are glad it’s here.
“I’ll regurgitate a point Brad made. It’s not a matter of, ‘Do we like this?’ or ‘Did we want this?’ It’s just the reality of college football and college athletics,” Ferentz said, “just like it’s a reality that UCLA and USC will be in the Big Ten in two years. Whatever your opinion may be, it’s just part of the times we’re navigating through right now.”
How much money can this collective raise?
This will take time to unfold. Heinrichs said he’s secured a few six-figure contributions, but the work is just beginning. The website (IowaSwarm.com) just launched Monday.
There are roughly 160 athletes (counting walk-ons) in football and basketball. To get to $1,000 per month per athlete, that would require nearly $2 million in donations annually.
“We’ve going to need several million dollars to help us get where we want to go,” Heinrichs said. “Whether that’s five, 10, I’m not sure. We’ve got a ways to go.”
It’ll take at least a year for everyone to figure out Iowa’s place in the evolving landscape. For now, the major players seem happy with the plan that’s in place and are rolling with it. Now let’s see how much money rolls in from Iowa fans.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.