Boca Raton is one of the retirement capitals of the United States, but thanks to a bit of magic that started in a gym off Florida State Road 808, Boca has become something greater.
Florida Atlantic, a research college that was tabbed by USA Today’s Dan Wolken as having a nasty locker room and a tiny gym, is the true definition of a Cinderella story, and quite possibly the greatest Cinderella story ever (yes, better than the princess).
In the NIL era, if a school hopes to be competitive, it needs a collective. For FAU, that collective wasn’t founded until January 2023. The Paradise Collective had a whopping $0 prior to the NCAA Tournament. On Saturday, the Owls will take on San Diego State with a shot at the national championship on the line.
Operated by an orthopedic surgeon and a dentist, the collective’s first week of fundraising netted the collective $65,000, with a goal of reaching $100,000 by the weekend.
“It’s crazy,” Chuck Toman, the orthopedic surgeon, told Sports Illustrated. “We are riding the wave.”
Unlike the other competitors in the field this weekend, FAU drags seriously behind the rest. San Diego State — another mid-major — is eons ahead of the Owls, with their basketball collective, MESA Foundation, launching in October 2022. Miami gets a ton of support from LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz, who is well known for his own reasons. Then there’s UConn, who boasts two collectives.
This is not to say FAU had no NIL movement prior or during the tournament. Players have benefitted from individual deals, particularly in a wealthy area such as Boca Raton, plus the push by student-athletes for trading cards and NFTs, according to FAU athletic director Brian White.
“It’s a different animal than Miami. It’s fantastic [FAU has] that much support,” Toman said. “It’s going to be tough in the world of college sports with programs that have mega-donors, but I’ve tried to encourage our local folks with the ability to do that to step up.”
“In Boca Raton, we should be fantastic at this. A lot of people who make a lot of money spend a lot of time here.”
While, yes, Toman is right in saying it’s tough to battle with those schools that have the luxury of mega-donors, the Final Four does give a special type of advantage for programs such as FAU.
In a tournament that has never in its history seen no top-3 seeds included in the Final Four, FAU is taking full advantage of the big stage, and proving that parity is here in college sports.
At a university whose biggest athletic achievement has been Howard Schnellenberger deciding to erect a football program at the turn of the century, the Owls basketball team is establishing a new kind of legacy in Boca Raton as the team with the nasty locker room and tiny gym able to possibly upset nationally recognized schools in front of 71,000 people and millions more on TV.