The Backstory of THE Foundation: How One of the Most Prominent Collectives in College Athletics Was Born 

Brian Schottenstein & Cardale Jones

NIL allows college athletes to capitalize on their name, image, and likeness. This wasn’t the case before July 1, 2021. Before that, the NCAA had long prohibited athletes from making money through endorsements, sponsorship deals, personal appearances, and other NIL initiatives.

Brian Schottenstein, a prominent real estate developer and OSU booster, and Cardale Jones, the 2014 National Champion-winning quarterback, knew if they joined forces, Ohio State could be at the forefront of NIL.

During Ohio State’s historic 2014 playoff run, Cardale was one of the most well-known athletes on the planet. Despite this, he couldn’t financially capitalize until he turned pro. Being involved in NIL was the perfect fit for Jones as his voice would resonate with current players since he’s been in their shoes. 

The Schottenstein family has been supporting Ohio State athletics for many decades. Brian’s close ties with the business community, past and current philanthropic efforts, and knowledge of Ohio State athletics gave him the confidence to run this operation in tandem with Jones.

In early 2021, there were hardly any other collectives in the country. The University of Texas had just launched a collective, Horns with Hearts. When word got to Schottenstein about this, he started making tweets to see what Ohio State fans thought about him and Cardale launching a collective. The positive feedback was resounding, and THE Foundation was born.

THE Foundation assembled its board and started announcing each member via Twitter (now X). Several of the tweets went viral. Within a short time, THE Foundation became well-known among Ohio State fans and nationally. 

Our interview with Brian Schottenstein and Cardale Jones was three years after launching THE Foundation. They both didn’t anticipate how much of an impact their efforts would have on Ohio State football and basketball, boasting one of the best recruiting classes and transfer portals.

This interview covers the beginning days of THE Foundation, their favorite memories, what goes on behind the scenes daily, and where they see THE Foundation and collectives in the foreseeable future.

How Did the Concept of THE Foundation Come About? 

Schottenstein: Originally, Cardale and I testified to the state house for name, image, and likeness to be legal by the state of Ohio. We were there when Governor DeWine signed the executive order. Neither of us planned to be involved with it personally. We saw Texas and another school or two pop up with this so-called collective… I had put a tweet out about it just to see the reaction. And people seemed to think that it was something important, so we ran with it. 

Schottenstein and Jones Testifying for NIL at State House

Cardale: Brian and I had a good friendship before starting THE Foundation. We’re obviously both passionate about Ohio State. The Schottenstein Family has contributed to this university for 40 or 50 years. My athletic experience at Ohio State, my understanding of student-athletes, and the recruiting landscape made this a natural fit. We knew other schools would take advantage of NIL, and we wanted to ensure Ohio State was in good hands.

What was it like at the beginning, when there wasn’t a lot of framework on collectives and NIL was a brand new concept? 

Brian: When we first started, we were raising money on our own. We were expecting to be somewhat of a behind-the-scenes operation. Our brand started getting a lot of recognition when we announced our board on Twitter, and we quickly grew a large social following. This had a snowball effect because we were getting big donations from fans and corporations. 

Cardale: We always had the framework to be aboveboard. We stuck by our core values, which helped us adapt to the ever-changing landscape of NIL.

THE Foundation started Tweeting different board members, many well-known former OSU athletes, and prominent members in the business community. This garnered nationwide buzz.

Cardale, how does it help to have you, a former player, National Champion, being able to communicate with the players?

Cardale: One of the biggest benefits is having someone who’s been in your shoes, having someone who has no bias or ultimatum on making sure the student-athletes are taken care of and, at the same time, giving back to our community. I wasn’t able to capitalize on those NIL opportunities. Back during the 2014 championship run, one day, nobody knew my name, and the next day, companies and brands were making shirts of me, and my highlights were all over ESPN and these different sites that are building their brand. If I were to get a free cheeseburger at the time, I had to be kicked out of school. I offer a unique perspective based on my experience.

Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett celebrating their 2014 National Championship win. Both Jones and Barrett serve on THE Foundations board.

What goes on behind the scenes at THE Foundation on a day-to-day basis? 

Brian: Well, recently, with the new NCAA ruling, we can talk to recruits and players in the transfer portal and offer them money…So, there is more open dialogue, making it easier for us to work on this. Contracts are a big part of the day-to-day operation. We have an attorney who handles the contracts and terms. We always need to be thinking about creative ways of raising money. In the past, our events have been a huge success. We offer the ability for fans to donate online for one-time or recurring donations. There are also daily marketing initiatives to raise awareness of all of our efforts on social media. There are many moving parts to being one of the top collectives in the country. 

There is a sentiment that collectives and NIL are one of the biggest catalysts to the success of a football or basketball program. Did you ever envision THE Foundation having this much of an impact? 

Brian: Yeah, if you look at it like three years, people weren’t talking about as much when we first started but were very successful even back then with player retention and whatnot. At the time, we couldn’t offer recruits money, but we could talk to them and tell them about THE Foundation and Ohio State, but now we can do deals. So, it makes it way more transparent… Players want to be compensated for their on-field performance and the awareness raised by their brand. It makes sense that when a historic program like Ohio State embraces NIL, it will only help catapult them. 

Cardale: It’s funny because when collectives were new at the beginning, the universities were hesitant to go all-in because they wanted to ensure they were compliant and following all the rules. Like Brian alluded to, players want to get paid for what they bring to their school. Collectives make sure it’s the right fit culturally and financially. It’s crazy now just how big of a part of recruiting and retention comes down to NIL. It’s not surprising but we feel like an important extension.

What are some of the best memories you’ve had thus far in running THE Foundation for the past 3-years? 

Brian: Our Spring Fest was really amazing. I don’t think there’s ever been an event where you have every coach on football and basketball and all the star players in one room with 800 people and all the charity partners. When we signed Caleb Downs, the news became a top 3 trending topic on Twitter nationwide. I think our tweet garnered over 2 million impressions. Seeing the positive sentiment amongst Buckeye fans after getting a big time player from Alabama was cool to witness. 

Cardale: I think the most memorable things for me right now are the events and any time we connect our student-athletes to our charity partners. Seeing how happy the kids and athletes are at these events always brings a smile to my face. 

Caleb Downs Commits to THE Foundation via a Tweet

Co-Founder Cardale Jones with Board Member and Former OSU Basketball Player Ronny Stokes.

Where do you see THE Foundation and NIL moving forward?

Brian: I think most of the schools will eventually handle NIL in-house, but I think we’ll be involved with that in some fashion. I just don’t know what time…But for now, we will continue to run business as usual and see what happens in the future.