Blake Dowling: College football, NIL and the power of community

Empty stadium
College Football. Those two words show infinite possibilities for the game's fans.

College Football. Those two words are powerful.

Images of a 5-year-old me rooting for the Crimson Tide come to mind with my grandparents at Legion Field in the 1980s. I caught the tail end of the Bear Bryant era; what a time to be alive.

My grandfather always walked with a cane at those games, but not in his routine. I thought that was odd until years later, I realized the club had a handle you could remove, and inside were four 5 oz canisters for smuggling bourbon. Well played, Mr. JD. Holman: you were and are always an inspiration to me. Thank you also for introducing me to the sport of college football, being a mentor in life, and teaching me creativity in bourbon smuggling.

Fast forward to my first University of Florida football game on Nov. 30, 1991; adios childhood team (apologies to JD).

From my first time walking into the Swamp — and every trip around the sun since — I have bled orange and blue. That game began the Steve Spurrier era; wow, what a time to be alive. The final score that day was 14-9 as Bobby Bowden and 2023-star coach Deion Sanders and the Florida State Seminoles met their match against Spurrier, Emmett Smith and the Florida Gators.

In the 32 years that followed, I picked up season tickets as an adult and have witnessed greatness firsthand many times, attending multiple national championship and conference title games in person. Plus, our family used to stay at the team hotel football weekends, so not only did we attend many home games in Gainesville (around 150 for me), but we also got to meet many of the coaches and players who make the game so special.

The other significant teams in Florida had equally impressive runs during that time. Miami and Florida State have multiple national titles and when no one was looking, UCF and USF, FAU and FAMU burst on the national stage in short bursts. That only adds to the legend and reputation that Florida is the epicenter of everything. Florida is king in elections (electoral votes), the best place to live, the perfect vacation spot, and indeed the king of college football.

It is not always the same team on top; when one drops, one steps up as the cycle of life and football continues. Although when Florida and Florida State were both on top in the 1900s, that was spectacular. According to the rankings, Florida State is in the driver’s seat this year. Having survived the Willie Taggart era, they are now in the Top 5, with Mike Norvell leading the charge.

Speaking of Tallahassee, today’s column is football-centric; however, there are great NIL stories outside of football. In the Capital City, 2 FAMU athletes signed a national NIL deal with H & Block, which you can read about here.

My grandfather would have difficulty understanding the entire landscape of football today as the model he grew up with has changed. Specifically, on June 30, 2021, the Division 1 Board of Directors approved an interim name, image and likeness (NIL) policy. This new policy allows all NCAA D1, D2 and D3 student-athletes to be compensated for their NIL as of July 1, 2021, regardless of whether their state has a NIL law in place.

Pun alert: this law was indeed a game changer.

For years, players, players’ advocates, and their families said it was unfair for a company to profit off players without handing them royalties.

For example, to put out a video game with an image of Tim Tebow on the cover, and Tebow did not receive a dime of compensation for that.

After years, it is a reality, with all programs, supporters, and athletes finding their footing in the NIL world.

Does NIL mean local businesses are getting athletes to represent their brand? Yes. Are national companies doing the same? Also, it means community service and engagement with student-athletes in all sports in our society.

I had a chance to sit down and talk about football with the people behind the scenes of the University of Florida NIL group, Florida Victorious. They have indeed found their footing and their place in the NIL landscape. Their mission is to partner with businesses, community organizations, and donors to provide opportunities for UF student-athletes.

This includes community service efforts, unique fan engagements, and compensation.

One of the first questions I had for the group was about compensation.

How do you stop jealousy among a team or across sports? If one player is being paid a great deal and the other very little. That was a simple answer: all arrangements are confidential, and if the student-athlete does not meet the agreement’s requirements, there is no benefit. That is straightforward, like a real job. And unlike the real world, there is no working from home in college athletics. They put in the WORK, and I went to a football practice to see it with my own eyes.

UF practice 2023 with Katie Turner, assistant director of Recruiting Strategy.

The practice was run like a well-oiled machine with more moving parts than an Amazon logistics facility. I got a chance to hang out with Ryan Dunn from Florida Victorious, as well as Katie Turner, and Coach Napier from the staff. Their approach is about creating an environment where these student-athletes can be champions in sports, the classroom, and life.

Chatted with one of the Florida Victorious Advisory Board Members (a who’s who of Gator Royalty) to get their take on all things NIL.

Board member Chris LaFace offered the following:

“The new world of NIL has created what hopefully will be a tremendous advantage for University of Florida athletics. We are working hard to build something that is robust while also maintainable long term.” Chris is the CEO of RIPA and Associates in Tampa, Florida. While not a UF student-athlete, he was the goalie for the Tallahassee-based hockey team, the Tiger Sharks, long ago so he knows the behind-the-scenes world of business and athletics and where they now intersect.

When discussing community service with Florida Victorious, one organization and its partnership with the athletes stood out.

Gator athletes worked with the Alachua Habitat for Humanity on 10 projects, with 44 student-athletes participating to the tune of over 250 hours. I think when you hear their voices talking about the impact they are making, you get the idea.

UF wide receiver Ja’Quavion Fraziars talks about the experience of working with another charity, Bread of the Mighty Food Bank, because he was one of those kids when he was young who sometimes did not have enough to eat.

This clip sums it up: football, impact, giving and community.

The CEO of Florida Victorious, Nate Barbera, shared the following:

“Florida Victorious is all about being a force for good on- and off the field. Through the Florida Victorious Foundation, student-athletes promote various partners difficult. Like Habitat for Humanity of Alachua County, the Ronald McDonald House of North Central Florida, the Southwest Advocacy Group (SWAG) of Gainesville, and the North Central Florida YMCA while doing service work. These athletes not only raise awareness of these organizations but learn the impact their time, passion, and presence can have on others who are going through something.”

College Football. Those two words show infinite possibilities for the game’s fans.

While my grandfather might not recognize the complex landscape of college football today, as some things have changed, the basics are still the same, and the basics are to win. While chasing the sometimes-elusive W, the student-athletes involved in the hunt now get to monetize their efforts while competing, and it is our job to support them.

College football is cyclical; by my latest crystal ball reading, I have the Gators back in the Top 10 by 2024, and it is up to the fans to help them get there. Efforts like the 96 Club at UF are a great place to start.

It does not matter if you root for the Hurricanes or the Owls; the state of Florida college athletic community (all sports, not just football) is counting on you to fill up your cane with bourbon, attend some games, and get out your checkbook to support them. GO COLLEGE FOOTBALL and see you at the tailgate soon.

Check out:

Miami NIL info: Home — Canes Connection.

Florida State NIL info: FSU NIL Collective | Florida State Seminoles NIL deals | Rising Spear.

 UCF NIL info: The Kingdom NIL.

FAMU NIL info: NIL Club for Florida A&M University football team.

UF: Gator NIL subscription for exclusive access and athlete support.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies in Tallahassee, Florida, and a proud UF graduate, Gator Booster, and a Florida Victorious supporter.

Blake Dowling

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His technology columns are published by several organizations. Contact him at [email protected] or at


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