The Best Is Ahead Founder Jeff Leventhal Breaks Down Maryland Football’s NIL Collective

Named The Best is Ahead Foundation, Maryland football’s NIL collective was announced on Wednesday as the program looks to remain competitive in the changing landscape of college football recruiting.

Jeff Leventhal and Dan Crawley, a former Towson star who played nine seasons in the CFL, are leading the collective while Under Armour founder Kevin Plank is among those backing the foundation. The collective is geared to provide benefits to Maryland football’s student athletes through community outreach, led by initiatives like gun violence education, mental health awareness, drug & alcohol prevention and literacy programs. The desire to design football’s collective around local outreach opportunities is a decision that dates back years ago, according to Leventhal.

“Several years back when coach [Mike] Locksley left Alabama, I reached out to him. We’re longtime friends, played football together in college and I said ‘hey, what can I do to help?’ He had a vision for not just how he wanted to build a successful football program and winner on the field but what he wanted to do for his players off the field and preparing them for life after football,” he told Inside the Black and Gold.

“As we thought about NIL, I think the perception in the marketplace is it’s a marketing opportunity for players to be able to earn dollars from their name, image and likeness by offering their services to business, whether it’s tweeting about products or autograph signings. Those things are great, and we’ll continue to promote those things across the University of Maryland, but we thought this would detail nicely on coach Locksley’s theme of preparing his players for life after football. Getting players to go into the community to help the underserved youth with the focus on our four initiatives—gun violence education, mental health awareness, drug and alcohol prevention, literacy programs—helps the community and also teaches our players on the importance of giving back.”

The NIL collective builds on other programs that have started since Locksley took over following the 2018 season. “Several years ago, we built a mentorship program where we connected CEOs, professionals, entrepreneurs with players on the team to mentor them with things outside of football. Now we have 80 mentors that mentor players from the time they get to Maryland to the time they graduate. That was step one. Step two was we created an internship program. We actually had 30 players on the team with paid internships so they can learn what it’s like to be in the real world in all types of career paths.”

With The Best is Ahead Foundation adding to Locksley’s vision for his tenure as Maryland’s head coach, players could soon capitalize on the collective’s mission as TBIAF is already in communications with various non-profits. The bulk of events will be conducted in the offseason, though the foundation could have events during Maryland’s bye week the last week of October. The next step for the collective is getting more sponsors and involvement. “This part will start with really just focusing on the community service aspect. We’ll be partnering with different non-profits who will focus on these areas, and we hope to have corporate sponsors sponsor those events.”

Leventhal further explained how Maryland football’s collective differs from other collectives across the country. “NIL is here to stay in NCAA sports and it’s critical for universities to spend some time taking care of the players from a recruiting standpoint, but in addition to that, we’ll make a difference in people’s lives in the community. I think that’s a different spin that we’re doing here at TBIAF than a lot of other schools around the country.”

The Best is Ahead Foundation will host an event tonight in Baltimore with Locksley and former Terps Torrey Smith and Vernon Davis in attendance. “I think it’s going to be very exciting for those potential donors who are in attendance tonight in downtown Baltimore,” Leventhal added. Bonnie Bernstein will also serve as emcee and Kevin Plank as keynote speaker, who has become a key piece in Maryland’s collective.

“Anyone who is familiar with the University of Maryland knows that Kevin Plank is if not the biggest supporter, one of the biggest supporters of everything that Maryland does especially as a former football player. He has a love for supporting the team and Kevin Plank is behind everything…he’s in full support, he’s helping as he always does economically.”

Leventhal declined to publicly say how much has been raised thus far, adding “I can just tell you the support in communicating this softly has been amazing.” With Wednesday night’s event serving as a potential step for the collective, the need for additional donations from fans and supporters remains prevalent.

“I think if Maryland is going to be successful on the NIL front, we’ve got to have a lot more people willing to be a part of it.”

Fans can donate to the collective by heading to Contributions are tax deductible.

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