Round Two: The Kent State perspective on the new Name, Image, Likeness policy

Photo via Kent State University Athletics

Rob Senderoff is 247-147 in 12 seasons as the men’s basketball head coach at Kent State University, making him the winningest and longest-tenured coach in program history. His Golden Flashes won Mid-American Conference regular season and tournament championships in 2017 and 2023, automatically qualifying for the NCAA Tournament both years. Last season’s squad went 28-7, the best record of Senderoff’s career and the best by the Flashes since the 2007-08 campaign. And he earned MAC Coach of the Year honors in 2022.

Probably most impressively, Senderoff has successfully navigated the Flashes through the choppy and uncharted waters of Name, Image, Likeness and the transfer portal, which have dramatically altered the college sports landscape since Senderoff’s first MAC title in 2017:

– On Oct. 15, 2018, the NCAA launched its transfer portal, an online database where student-athletes can declare their desire to transfer.

– As of April 2021, Division I athletes transferring schools for the first time no longer have to sit out a year at their new college before competing.

– On July 1, 2021, the NCAA approved its NIL policy allowing all NCAA Division I, II and III student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness.

As a result of those paradigm-shifting changes, the way college sports function now bears little resemblance to how they functioned back in that MAC title year of 2017 — which has led to the birth of NIL collectives, which, in a nutshell, are programs structurally independent of a college or university that help facilitate the endorsement opportunities for that school’s athletes. Collectives pay athletes in an NIL-compliant manner and are often funded by monetary donations to a general pool.

Kent State’s first (and so far only) collective is the Blue & Gold Collective, LLC, which was founded by Mike Beder, Edmond Mack and Mark Frisone, and officially launched in July 2022. [Note: The Blue and Gold Collective’s Kent State Men’s Basketball Season Tip-Off NIL Fundraiser will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30 at the Lake House Kitchen + Bar at 7508 state Route 43 in Kent. More on this event later in the article.]

So it’s against this backdrop that Round 2 went to Senderoff for a Q&A on what it takes to succeed as a coach and a program in this brave new world — and where things might be headed:

TH: Between Name, Image, Likeness and the transfer portal, college athletics have seen a seismic shift in the last few years. It has afforded players far more freedom of movement and control of their college careers than ever before, but what has it meant for coaches, particularly in trying to keep a program stable in the new environment which, by its nature, fosters instability?

RS: There are more challenges now than ever before to keep a program stable. This is a much different era in college athletics and those that adapt well will thrive, and those that do not will be left behind.

TH: To the average fan, the NCAA seems to have rolled out NIL and the transfer portal very quickly. Do you feel that way as a coach as well, and what should have been done differently with the rollout – or needs to change now – with this new system?

RS: I’m not really the right person to answer this one. My job as the basketball coach here at Kent State is to do my best to help our program compete within the guidelines set up. Are all of the changes impactful? Of course they are … but my focus is how to best compete under the system we have in place and under University guidelines.

TH: Before NIL and the portal, rosters were fairly stable from year to year aside from the usual attrition. But there is a “new normal” now, with players jumping schools for NIL money instead of just issues concerning playing time or a coaching change. As a coach, do you find yourself having to worry about your players being “poached” by other basketball programs dangling a bigger NIL carrot in front of them?

RS: It certainly is a concern, but I can’t coach that way. I have to coach with the mindset of putting our players in the best position possible to succeed and help maintain a high standard of excellence here at Kent. I want my players to have a great experience here. I want them to LOVE playing here at Kent and playing for each other. Obviously, this era of NIL/Portal makes that more challenging than ever before, but my focus on our players’ success and program’s success is the same.

TH: How difficult is it to navigate the new rules regarding NIL and permissible benefits when players were not allowed benefits of any kind previously?

RS: The rules are evolving with regards to NIL, and programs/universities need to be willing to adapt to the rules and the landscape that we exist under. It’s a challenge for sure, but something everyone is going through.

TH: NIL applies to everyone, but not equally. The bigger programs have more money to offer players. Where does the Blue & Gold Collective fit in for your program, and how has it made a difference in these “early days” of NIL?

RS: I am really thankful that the Blue and Gold Collective has been established. I am really excited that they are hosting their first NIL “event” on Oct. 30 with our team. As you know, in this era, having a healthy NIL program is vital for success. We are never going to have a collective or NIL program that competes with Ohio State and Xavier. But, with there being 350+ DI basketball programs, in order for us to maintain any relevance, we need to have a program that can compete with schools like ours across the country. That’s what makes basketball, and men’s basketball in particular, so unique. We not only have the Power 5, but we have hundreds of other universities that can use NIL/Collectives to change the trajectory of the talent coming in and staying with their programs. So, I am extremely grateful that this collective has been set up and hopeful that people in the community want to support this initiative in whatever way they can.

TH: Generally speaking, have NIL and the transfer portal, overall, helped or hurt college sports?

RS: It’s been very good for a number of schools and has hurt others. NIL is great for student-athletes. They get a chance to finally profit from their Name, Image and Likeness. That is a plus. The portal part has me a little concerned because I am not sure that as many student-athletes will graduate when transferring, especially multiple times. It’s just my personal concern because 90%+ of college basketball players are going to go pro in something other than basketball when they finish their eligibility, so getting a college degree is really important in my opinion.

TH: How have you changed your approach to recruiting in this new era? Is NIL always a consideration now?

RS: If NIL is the main priority for a potential recruit, it’s going to be hard for us to recruit that student-athlete. We want a transformational experience here at Kent State. At the same time, we want to be able to compete for players with our peers, and NIL is certainly part of the equation for most student-athletes.

TH: The Kent State football program was hit hard by players transferring out, most to Power 5 programs, after the 2022 season. Has roster turnover increased in your men’s basketball program since NIL and the transfer portal came into existence?

RS: Roster turnover is part of college athletics. Fortunately for us, we have not had a student-athlete that entered our program as a freshman leave our program in over four years. That is a testament to our assistant coaches. I also know those numbers are over a very short window and that can change quickly based upon how our team does and how our players feel their time at Kent State is going.

TH: In what ways can/have NIL and the portal helped Kent State, and mid-majors in general?

RS: NIL can help programs that are aggressive in this space. Sometimes that talent may be from the transfer portal, and sometimes that talent may be retaining a good player and not having them transfer out of the program. As you look across the country, there are many programs that are using this “new model” to advance their programs, and there are some that are getting decimated by it.

TH: Have you noticed a change in players in this new era as far as their approach to the team concept? Is a “me first” mindset creeping in?

RS: I don’t see a “me first” mindset any more or any less than at a different era. Good teams will have players who sacrifice for each other and bad teams will not. That has been the same for as long as “teams” have existed.

TH: Do you find yourself, on some level, coaching a bit differently now knowing that players who “aren’t getting theirs” don’t have to worry about the old transfer rules that discouraged them from leaving? In other words, is it tempting as a coach to keep your best players happy so they won’t transfer, or is it really out of your hands anyway in this new climate?

RS: No. I am aware that players can leave, but that will not change how or why I coach.

TH: Do coaches feel like they have less control over their programs because of NIL and the transfer portal, that things are more fluid and uncertain now and the foundation under their programs isn’t as solid?

RS: I think that’s a great question. As a coach, I certainly feel like I have less control over the overall well-being of my program than ever before. At the same time, I will constantly fight for our culture and fight to help our players have the best experience that Kent State can provide for them.

TH: How close of an eye do you keep on the portal as a coach? Is it something you constantly have to monitor?

RS: We monitor the portal daily in the offseason. Sometimes multiple times a day. It’s a big part of recruiting, so we need to be aware of what is going on in that space.

TH: This is the system we have now. Are you still adapting to it, finding new ways to use it to your advantage, or are you comfortable with the adjustment at this point?

RS: It is adapting very quickly, and it is hard to keep up with everything that is changing. We are still working on how to best utilize the system to help our program, and that is something that is constantly evolving.

TH: Are mid-majors falling further behind larger basketball programs, or can they close the gap now with the transfer portal allowing for freer player movement?

RS: Mid-majors will always be mid-majors, and high majors will always be high majors. But … as you see with places like Florida Atlantic and College of Charleston, the gap isn’t very big. When you have a high level of commitment from everyone, you have a chance to maintain a high level on the playing field.

TH: Can a program be built quicker now? In other words, can what used to take several recruiting cycles and years of player development be done in just a year or two simply by adding players through the portal? What Deion Sanders is doing with the University of Colorado football program immediately comes to mind.

RS: Yes you can. The hardest thing to change is the culture and the expectations. But, with the system we now have, you have an opportunity to do that faster than at any other time in college athletics history. At the same time, changing a culture is not easy and getting the right players to do that is not easy either.

TH: Continuing that point: In your case at Kent State and the Mid-American Conference in general, is it better to build mainly through the portal or with high school recruits? What are the pros and cons of each approach in the era of NIL and the portal?

RS: I believe that you need to have a strong core of 4- and 5-year players that develop in your program along with adding transfers when needed. There may be years where more transfers are needed and other years where it is not, but there is no “right way” to build and maintain a successful program. Kent State has always had some bedrock 4- or 5-year guys going all the way back to the [2002] Elite Eight year with Trevor and Drew [Trevor Huffman and Andrew Mitchell], but have also had impact transfers like Tone and Shaw [Antonio Gates and Demetric Shaw] to supplement the team. That has not changed.

TH: Where is all this headed? Is it the ruination of college sports, or when things settle down will college sports be in an even stronger position than before?

RS: Another good question that I quite honestly don’t know the answer to.

Note: The Kent State men’s basketball team tips off the 2023-24 season against Malone at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 6 at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center.


You can help support the Golden Flashes at the Blue and Gold Collective’s Kent State Men’s Basketball Season Tip-Off NIL Fundraiser. The event will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 30 at the Lake House Kitchen + Bar at 7508 state Route 43 in Kent.

Complimentary cocktails and appetizers will be served, and attendees will get a 2023-24 season preview from Senderoff and players. Autographs and photos are also welcome.

All proceeds of a $100 ticket go directly to the NIL Collective for the men’s basketball team, which is donating a portion of the proceeds to Kent Family and Community Services. “Our players have done a lot of community service with that organization over the years, and that is something our guys wanted to give back to,” Senderoff said.

To RSVP or if you are interested in donating to the Blue and Gold Collective, contact Mike Beder at 330-815-0747. Walk-ups are also welcome.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.