In May of 2020, the NCAA announced its support for student-athletes being compensated for their name, image, and likeness (NIL). As the news of NIL compensation spread throughout the country, athletic departments began preparing for a new era of college athletics. Naturally, most schools focused on ways to maximize the NIL earnings of its athletes.
Instead of only maximizing the short-term earnings of its most popular athletes, BYU began brainstorming a wholistic program that had the potential to benefit all student-athletes in both the long term and the short term. It was designed specifically for BYU, and its ideals were co-founded by two friends. BYU Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Experience Gary Veron and BYU Director of Player Experience and Equipment Operations Billy Nixon.
"'Built4Life' is not only a NIL solution," said BYU Director of Player Experience and Equipment Operations Billy Nixon. "'Built4Life' is a wholistic solution that prepares student athletes to use their name, image, and likeness to not only capitalize now monetarily, but build a foundation that is going to propel them into life after athletics."
The two co-founders spent hours doing research and discussing ways to enhance the student experience at BYU. The two were so passionate about the project, that even the long lines at Disneyland served as brainstorming sessions. "Gary and I came up with that on a couples trip to Disneyland, we came up with it as we spent many Friday nights as couples just talking about things we can do to improve the student experience."
The finished product was tailored to BYU and its student athletes. "We looked at different angles and refined it over time," said BYU Associate Athletic Director for Student-Athlete Experience Gary Veron. "We found that the Built4Life model really is the perfect fit for BYU, whereas it wouldn't be for other institutions. You may be able to take components are 'Built4Life', but it's really about BYU, who the students are, what Kalani's vision is with his 'Built Not Born' mentality, and love and learning philosophy."
After hundreds of hours of discussion and collaboration, 'Built4Life' was born. BYU announced the launch of 'Built4Life' during BYU football media day.
The Four Pillars of 'Built4Life'
According to BYU's official press release, the 'Built4Life' program "is focused through four main pillars: learn, brand, work and love."
"We knew we had to have the learning component because we were an institution of higher education," Veron said. "We think it is extremely valuable for our student athletes to learn not just what they learn in a classroom or on the field or court, but trying to bridge the gap between what they want to know and what actually know when they leave."
"We started soliciting feedback from the student....we found that it was repeatedly the same five or six topics, from financial literacy to how to land that dream job, how to enhance my leadership capabilities, family relationships, balancing the work-life schedule, growing into a new space of being wife, father, husband, which is unique to BYU." - Gary Veron
The messaging around the brand component was simple. "Everything contributes to your brand. And because of BYU and their legacy, your brand is enhanced through BYU," Veron stated.
That goes both ways, Veron added. "We know that obviously our brand is also enhanced because of the quality of our student athletes."
The Milken Institute recently named the Provo-Orem area the best-performing large city in the country. It recently replaced San Francisco who previously held the top spot.
"We knew that we had to leverage having a top-tier economy in our backyard," said Veron.
How were they going to do that? With a program named the 'BYU 300'.
"We're going to build these relationships with some of the best companies in the world and work with them to formalize mentoring opportunities and internship opportunities for our student athletes."
The 'BYU 300' would consist of 300 different ongoing relationships with companies around the state of Utah. Those relationships would provide internships for BYU student athletes.
Veron added that these internships would not be "just the summer jobs that we're used to...we want quality, legitimate and rich internships for our student athletes, whether you're a gymnast, a football athlete, or a baseball player...that way, when you go to compete for a job after graduation, you stand out among the competition."
In the long term, BYU believes those internships could naturally develop into NIL opportunities for BYU's student athletes.
BYU has already signed agreements with various companies
When BYU took the field for the opener against Navy last season, they wore shirts that read "Love One Another". The "Love One Another" initiative was a player-driven campaign in response to the social injustices occurring around the country.
'Built4Life' will aid and enhance those student athletes that want to create non-profit charities, or purse social causes that are most interesting to them.
"What we're saying now is no, we're going to support you where you are and help you in your respective ambitions and causes," Veron said. "Whether it's first responder causes, anti-bullying causes, prevention with domestic violence, or Black Lives Matter."
Instead of forcing entire teams to get behind social issues, BYU will look to support individual athletes in their endeavors. According to Veron, BYU already has six athletes that have created nonprofit charities.
Playing the Long Game
BYU is hoping that its long-term NIL solution will pay dividends in the future. "Hopefully [BYU athletes are] looking back on their experience here at BYU and saying, gosh, those experiences I got through the 'Built4Life' program have blessed my life and the lives of my spouse and my children, because I've taken those tools and resources and utilized them...and then later on, you're giving back. And I'm not talking about financially. I don't really care about the financial. I want the athletes to be forever tethered to BYU and want to give back through mentoring."
On the day of the announcement, BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe stated “Here at BYU, we’re approaching NIL in a different way. While many are looking at what NIL will mean for the fastest ways to get student-athletes’ paid, we’re in this for the long haul. We welcome our student-athletes to monetize their own personal brands, and make as much money as they can, but our Built4Life program revolves around a wholistic student-athlete development system with learning and employment opportunities that will benefit them far beyond their time as a student-athlete."
To conclude, Veron pointed out that NIL opportunities are limited for most student athletes. The mission of 'Built4Life' is to provide the necessary skills and development to break through those barriers.
"The NIL space is great as it currently stands. But what athletes and outsiders don't get sometimes, is that there's a ceiling to your NIL marketability and your endorsement ability. We want to break through that ceiling on their behalf."
What Can BYU Fans do to Help?
Veron pointed out two ways that BYU fans can help build the Built4Life program.
"If you are a current business owner or in a position to help with mentoring or internships, we would love to hear from you. Second, if you have some area of expertise that you think will be of value to our student athletes, we love to hear from you."