The NIL collective-deals rumor mill is at full tilt—there are alleged big-bucks offers to college athletes in the transfer portal that are oftentimes “completely made up,” says a recent Front Office Sports (FOS) report.
An example is Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison, Jr., who supposedly was offered around $20 million to stay in school for an extra year rather than declare for the NFL draft. At least four industry experts told FOS this figure wasn’t true.
But the report also points out that some top-tier athletes can make around seven figures “due to a combination of collective earnings and other NIL contracts,” says FOS.
These misleading reports are among the many things Kiera Buford hopes to dispel in her new job as U of M director of alumni relations/NIL.
Buford, a St. Paul Central and Minnesota grad was hired in November to direct the day-to-day activities of the school’s M Club and work closely with Gopher players in “growing their brands” and navigating through the NIL universe, which seems to change every day, she explained.
“Sports have changed so much. Every day is a learned experience,” said Buford in a recent MSR interview. “I’ve liked having opportunities to do something different” after a decade or so working in education, she added.
This newspaper has covered Buford throughout her prep career at Central (2004-08), her four-year Gopher basketball playing career, making the all-Big Ten Freshman Team and three consecutive academic all-conference teams (2008-12), and twice leading the squad in scoring.
We noted when Buford made the short list of Blacks who played on a state high school championship team (St. Paul Central, 2007 and 2008), and later won a state title as head coach (Robbinsdale Cooper, 2018).
Buford played overseas professionally and then embarked on a career in education as a high school administrator in three local school districts since 2014.
“I was at the top of my profession—was going for my principal’s license. What is my next step?” Buford asked herself. “I got to a point where I knew all the things like the back of my hand. But obviously sports is my thing, and I wasn’t set that I wanted to be a principal right now.”
Now back at her alma mater working with Gophers NIL “czar” Senior Associate Athletics Director Jeremiah Carter, Buford pointed out, “It’s funny just how things work because if you’d asked me 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have predicted that this is where I would be. It just kinda worked perfectly.”
The NIL landscape is chock full of unsuspected holes, always changing without a consistent or formal oversight either from the NCAA, federal or state levels.
“It looks so different depending on what conference you’re in,” continued Buford. “We have a lot of changes happening in the Big Ten along with the addition of new teams [in 2024-25]. The market is just changing for athletes.
“So, a lot of my role right now is helping athletes with their brand…and everything that goes with that.”
Buford succeeds former Gopher Quincy Lewis, now the Utah Jazz alumni relations director. She is not only the first female letter-winner to lead the M Club but its first Black female director as well.
“I’m a big advocate for Black women in general, whether it’s in coaching, sports or leadership,” said Buford. “That’s a mission of mine, so it’s super important for me. I’m super grateful just for the opportunity, and really it starts with Jeremiah.”
Now with two Black individuals, both St. Paul Central alums and former Gophers, charged with helping present U of M athletes in their NIL endeavors, Bluford said, “I’m just super hopeful and excited about our potential and our future work.”