Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 MARCH 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at F or full disclosure, I was an ardent supporter and fully all-in when it came to Notre Dame student-ath- letes and others around the country be- ing allowed to privately profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL), even while carrying an "amateur" status. It seemed unjust, at least to me, that the young men and women who stuff millions into university coffers every year were prohibited from making a few bucks during summer camps, autograph ap- pearances and other endorsement op- portunities off of their talents and no- toriety. But what I naively didn't consider when the NCAA adopted an interim NIL policy in July was how student-athlete monetization would nuke the current landscape of big-time college athletics, and not necessarily for the better. Where there's money, there's greed; and where there's greed, there's fraud; and already, there's plenty of all three to go around with more confusion than structure from the NCAA on how schools and athletes should handle the dawn of the NIL era. Like the lawless Wild West, it's every school for itself when it comes to NIL, and the ones such as Notre Dame that plan to stay transparent and above board when considering and finalizing these endeavors are already in danger of falling behind the ones that are not. Knowing that his 2022 recruiting class is the first where top players can shop and weigh NIL earning power into their college decision process, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said his program will stay clear of a NIL cesspool that is filling up fast with five-, six- and even seven-figure sponsorship deals already being negotiated by prom-aged kids. "We do things the Notre Dame way," Freeman explained when asked how he will navigate these uncharted waters. "We're going to do everything we do with integrity and the right way. We're going to win by outworking people. "It's going to be our mindset in football and in recruiting. We're going to outwork our opponents. I don't want to do any- thing that has to do with breaking rules." And maybe that's the core problem, that there really are no rules, because the NCAA essentially put the onus on indi- vidual schools to monitor their players' NIL endeavors. And what a slippery slope that be- comes, given that all schools are not created equally in terms of ethical stan- dards. In August, Brigham Young University unveiled details of an NIL deal it reached with protein bar manufacturer Built Brands that compensated all 123 of its football players, including the 36 walk- ons who all received a year's tuition paid by the company. And while this NIL agreement was widely celebrated as gracious and groundbreaking in Provo, Utah, it also provided a glimpse into a way NIL can be used to skirt the NCAA's 85-player scholarship limit. More recently, in December at the University of Texas, a fledgling state- based nonprofit named Horns with Heart pledged $50,000 to every Long- horns offensive lineman — a position of great need at Texas, especially with its pending move to the SEC. The organization titled its endeavor "The Pancake Factory," and shortly after its launch, Texas landed the No. 2 of- fensive tackle (Kelvin Banks Jr.) and the No. 5 offensive guard (Neto Umeozulu) from the 2022 class, per On3. Stories like these are already popping up all around the country, but perhaps none was more brow raising during the early signing period that opened on Dec. 15, than the saga of Travis Hunter, a 2022 five-star athlete rated by On3 as the No. 1 recruit in the class. Hunter initially committed to Florida State over Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and about every other Power Five pow- erhouse, but then made an 11th-hour flip to play for FCS school Jackson State led by head coach Deion Sanders. The specific reasons for Hunter's late and shocking school swap are not yet public knowledge, but it's hard to imag- ine NIL money wasn't part of his deci- sion equation. Hunter was later joined at Jackson State by four-star wide receiver Kevin Coleman, the No. 71 overall player, whose commitment gave Sanders the No. 21 recruiting class in the country — ahead of Ole Miss, Michigan State, Or- egon and many other top programs. So, let the bidding wars begin. Re- cruiting just got a lot more interesting. Initially, I thought that Notre Dame would benefit more from NIL than any other school in the nation because of its national and even international appeal, and it still may. But with loose guidelines and essen- tially no oversight to NIL, I worry that having scruples and playing by the rules might mean that the nice guys such as Notre Dame will finish last when it comes to recruiting pursuits. ✦ Irish head coach Marcus Freeman said his pro- gram will stay clear of a NIL cesspool that is fill- ing up fast with five-, six- and even seven-figure sponsorship deals already being negotiated by prom-aged kids. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Could Name, Image And Likeness Constrain Notre Dame's Recruiting?

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