Fans can help pay Wildcats athletes through UA's 5980 Fund, new nonprofit

University of Arizona sports fans now have two more ways to help compensate Wildcat athletes.

The school’s athletic department, having already committed to paying all its eligible athletes an extra $5,980 a year in academic-related bonuses starting this fall, announced Thursday it has established the 5980 Fund to help. The UA’s Wildcat Club developmental arm is seeking donations for the fund.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit BPS Foundation also announced Thursday that fans can give tax-deductible donations that will help UA athletes receive further name, image and likeness opportunities with charities through the Friends of Wilbur and Wilma NIL collective.

UA’s academic-related bonus payments of $5,980, which is the most allowed under a July 2021 Supreme Court ruling, are not tied to any academic achievements other than staying eligible and progressing toward a degree.

All power-conference programs are expected to pay the maximum academic bonuses on top of scholarships and cost-of-attendance stipends in order to remain competitive. Mississippi was the first school to begin payments after the June 2021 ruling, according to Sports Illustrated, while similar vehicles such as Oklahoma State’s POSSE Star Fund have been established to cover the cost of the payments.

While announcing UA’s commitment to the academic bonuses during an Arizona Board of Regents meeting in April, athletic director Dave Heeke said a plan was being devised to pay for a total of about $3 million, since UA has nearly 500 student-athletes.

That’s about 3% of UA’s annual budget, but Heeke told the Star in April that paying the bonuses was “the right thing to do.” Heeke also noted the “competitive and recruiting standpoint” involved: Not paying the bonuses, as with full the cost-of-attendance stipends, could put UA coaches at a disadvantage in recruiting.

For similar reasons, the bonuses aren’t likely to be tied to a particular grade-point average but instead paid fully toward those who are remaining eligible and working toward a degree — so that a recruit can’t be offered a more generous potential bonus somewhere else.

“I think it will be centered more around progressing,” Heeke said in April. Things such as “you’re meeting all the benchmarks for the NCAA, you’re getting your APR points, you’re making progress toward a degree, remaining eligible and according to NCAA standards, you’re in good standing, you’re not in violation of NCAA rules, team rules, all of those kinds of things. It gets kind of hard to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be a 3.0 or 4.0 student to get this.’”

The $5,980 academic bonus is yet another part of a dramatically new landscape for college athletes on top of changes involving the transfer portal and name, image and likeness activity.

Arizona established an in-house NIL platform called Arizona Edge that provides education about NIL and a marketplace portal to find opportunities, while two external outfits have also sprung up: Friends of Wilbur and Wilma and the Arizona Assist club.

Friends of Wilbur and Wilma has been pooling booster funds to give to UA athletes of all sports who make personal appearances, the vast majority of them for charities. It also assisting businesses who want to hire the athletes.

Arizona Assist, meanwhile, is focused solely on men’s basketball, distributing money for players equally via membership dues while marketing merchandise that benefits the player whose name is on it.

Having already reported arranging more than 350 transactions for UA football players, Friends of Wilbur and Wilma announced along with the BPS Foundation a partnership that is intended to expand opportunities for UA athletes with charitable organizations. The BPS Foundation said it has qualified for Section 501© (3) status, one of the first NIL organizations to have received a federal tax exemption.

“This allows us to empower University of Arizona student-athletes to channel their energy for a common goal: to make the community where they live and play a better place,” BPS Foundation chair Alex De Castroverde said in a statement. “BPS Foundation will create numerous new opportunities for these student-athletes to give back in Tucson, within the Friends of Wilbur and Wilma collective managed by Blueprint Sports.”

The BPS Foundation said tax-deductible donations can be given on a one-time or monthly basis at bpsfoundation.net. The Wildcat Club explains its mission at wildcatclub.org.