Leaders of Siena NIL collective Saints March On talk navigating challenges in new age of college basketball

Co-founder Frank Ambrose speaks during press conference announcing the Saints March On NIL collective at Siena College in Loudonville on Wednesday, January 26, 2023.

Co-founder Frank Ambrose speaks during press conference announcing the Saints March On NIL collective at Siena College in Loudonville on Wednesday, January 26, 2023.

LOUDONVILLE – In the little more than four months since its launch, the braintrust behind Saints March On — Siena’s exclusive name, image and likeness (NIL) collective — has seen firsthand the difficulty of operating in a college athletics landscape that’s seemingly undergone a complete facelift within the last few years.

“Fact is,” Saint March On co-founder and managing member Frank Ambose said, “Siena College has two professional basketball teams, right? That’s what it is. That’s the way things are right now. The idea that amateurism even exists anymore, let’s face it, that’s not the case.”

It’s only been a couple years, since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 decision in NCAA v. Alston, that college athletes have been able to be compensated for use of their name, image and likeness. Those endorsement opportunities, coupled with the NCAA relaxing its transfer rules, has led to a college sports atmosphere that bears more than a few similarities to free agency in professional sports.

Saints March On, the first NIL collective connected to a Capital Region college, was launched in late January with 1985 Siena graduate Ambrose, his wife Sheila, and 2009 Siena alumnus Matt Moberg as managing members. 

The collective, Frank Ambrose said, has been hard at work ever since.

“As soon as the collective was launched, we were already having conversations with core players,” he said. “We’re not sitting around waiting until the transfer portal opens up. The one thing the collective can do proactively is talk to the players that are already on the roster and committed.”

Scott Noel, a Capital Region entrepreneur and the public-address announcer for Siena men’s basketball games at Albany’s MVP Arena, has joined Saints March On since its launch. He’s said that Siena having a single, exclusive collective allows for a tighter focus and an easier connection with the school’s athletic department.

“Having one collective, and having it be a tighter-knit group, we’ve learned and stayed aligned,” Noel said. “Certain schools, and I’ll bring up St. John’s, they have five collectives. So, now you have five different Franks leading groups of guys with money. … It’s going to get hard for these schools to maintain any control.

“That’s where you see a guy like Baker Dunleavy leave Quinnipiac [as men’s basketball head coach] and go to Villanova to essentially be the GM of NIL, managing multiple collectives and multiple relationships as a full-time position.”

NIL opportunities were a major conversation point around the Siena men’s basketball program this offseason. 

Saints March On was unable to secure a deal with star point guard Javian McCollum, who eventually transferred to Oklahoma of the Big 12, where endorsement opportunities will likely be more lucrative and more readily available.

“In some ways, we were probably a little late to the game with Javian,” Ambrose said. “Javian had opportunities open up that, quite frankly, we’re not going to match what an Oklahoma can do, nor are we established to try to do that. We get that, and we say ‘congratulations.’”

Saints March On did sign an NIL deal with reigning MAAC men’s basketball rookie of the year Michael Eley, which was announced concurrently with the rising sophomore guard’s intent to return to Siena for the 2023-24 season. Last week, the collective announced it had signed a deal with wing Sean Durugordon, Siena’s most prominent addition through the transfer portal this offseason.

“Now that we have a group of players signed, we can start planning for the fall,” Ambrose said. “We’re reaching out to businesses now. That’s the next phase of this is to really try to get those businesses connected into the collective and let them connect directly with the players.”

So far, Saints March On’s efforts in terms of signing deals with athletes have been focused on men’s and women’s basketball — Siena’s biggest revenue-generating sports — though the collective has started to branch out into connecting athletes from other sports with opportunities. Ambrose said the collective has entered into a deal with Verified Inc. to create NFT digital trading cards that athletes can create and sell.

“That money just flows right through the collective to them as well,” he said. “It’s those kind of things that we can offer immediately. The other thing that we’ll do with other athletes is, as businesses potentially approach them directly, then we can facilitate that for them. We can take care of the contract work, the tax work, all the overhead that would make that kind of a deal easy for them.”

Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_Shinder.

Categories: -Sports-, College Sports, Siena College

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