Hurricanes’ NIL savior concerned: ‘Nobody thinks our team should be in this situation’

When Dan Lambert — the Miami Hurricanes booster and founder of a mixed martial arts team and gym — decided a few months ago to offer every Miami Hurricanes football player on scholarship a $500 monthly payment to promote his business under new NCAA rules, he hoped to entice other companies to follow suit.

That still might happen.

But UM’s 1-2 start is making that difficult.

“It’s hard to rally the troops when your performance isn’t what [people want],” Lambert, the founder of American Top Team, said Thursday. “I’ve had many conversations [with other companies]. It’s hard to bring it up over the last couple of weeks. I had some really good momentum going into the season; now it’s a wait and see.”

Lambert said after the 44-13 loss to Alabama, he detected “cautious optimism” with other companies that he approached about joining his NIL venture.

“But the next two performances [a narrow win against Appalachian State and a 21-point loss to Michigan State], there is no optimism there,” he said. “It’s an [expletive] sandwich.

“How do you spin playing like that with the talent they have? You shouldn’t perform that way against teams that your program should be much better than. No one will tell you that they’re happy with the state of the U.

“You hope something changes. I will not be the one effectuating the change. But you don’t want more of the same. You need to win and be competitive with the history of the program [to entice businesses to participate in his NIL venture]. It’s South Florida; this town wants winners.”

Lambert — who founded American Top Team, a Coconut Creek-based mixed martial arts team and gym with more than 40 affiliates worldwide — this past summer launched Bring Back The U, with the goal of connecting local businesses with UM players to capitalize on the new NIL rules and help the Canes’ program.

He’s investing $500,000 of his own money this season and hopes to find enough companies willing to join him to increase the monthly payment to Canes players. Lambert’s offer to pay every Hurricanes player was the first agreement of its kind.

“I would like to give every player $1,000 a month,” he said. “It might be enough to sway them to stay. Kids want to win and get developed. It’s going to be a challenge to raise [$1,000 a month for players if the team doesn’t win more]. Things can get better. Maybe they make changes or do something to give people a reason to be encouraged.”

Although Lambert is a Miami booster, Florida’s NIL law doesn’t prohibit Bring Back The U from facilitating endorsements because it’s a new business that has never donated to the university.

Lambert declines to say whether he wants a coaching change and said he would never go to the administration advocating any specific changes.

“I’m a longtime diehard Canes fan, but as far as getting involved in high-level meetings, what the hell do I know?” he said. “I’m an MMA guy. I don’t want to meet with coaches” or push for change.

That said, “Nobody thinks our team should be in this situation. We have a geographic advantage. We should be a top 20 team every year.

Would Lambert be willing to help pay for a new coach if UM wants to hire someone who makes well above the $4 million or so that’s traditionally paid to Canes coaches?

“I’m not in a place where I should offer money if they do something,” he said. “If they call me and have a really good idea, whether it’s a new coach or new facility, and I thought it made sense, I would take the call.”

Lambert approached UM’s NIL deal conscientiously, hiring respected local attorney Darren Heitner to make sure all rules were being followed.

“I reached out to the athletic department when I came up with the idea and I assured them everything I did would be compliant,” he said. “I hired Darren and put him on retainer. Everything goes through him first.”

The $500 monthly payment is deposited directly into the account of Canes players.

According to Lambert, “players who accepted the offer agree to do social media [for his MMA company], supporting local gyms, different services, put stories on Instagram and Twitter. I have a guy who knows a lot of players and he makes sure the players are doing it every so often and performing what” the agreement calls for.

Lambert made clear his unwavering support for the Canes and said of his NIL commitment: “I hope to be doing this for 35 years. I have more ideas to run by them.”

But as is the case with recruiting, winning apparently begets winning with NIL deals, too. Teams that win often land the best players. And teams that win seem more likely to entice local businesses to make the financial commitment to players that could lead to winning.

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BARRY JACKSON Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.