Notre Dame NIL policies explained in Ethics Week lecture
Alysa Guffey | Wednesday, February 15, 2023
When name, image and likeness (NIL) exploded in college athletics 18 months ago, Notre Dame analyzed how it could support its student-athletes while not sacrificing its identity as a university.
“When we talk to our student-athletes, who are our primary audience, we cannot dive right into name, image and likeness,” senior associate athletic director Claire VeNard said. “We have to start with the core of who we are and what this opportunity is, which is to come to the University of Notre Dame to grow and develop as a student, as an athlete and as a person.”
On the second day of this year’s NIL-focused Ethics Week, hosted by the Mendoza College of Business, VeNard detailed the University’s unique policies on the rapidly growing force in college football.
The first official NCAA NIL policy went into effect on July 1, 2021. Indiana is one of seven states that have not touched NIL legislation, meaning Notre Dame started from scratch when crafting an institutional policy for its student-athletes, VeNard said.
Notre Dame also adds one more category to its policies — ideas. Through the IDEA Center, the University has seen student-athletes pursue startups that can benefit financially and socially from the approval of NIL, VeNard said. One example is Pediatric Peptalk, a nonprofit created by Irish lacrosse player Max Manyak that connects children with chronic illnesses to their favorite athletes.
By the end of its initial policy formation stage, Notre Dame landed on five elements that would differentiate its approach to NIL and simultaneously uphold the University’s overarching mission: brand building; content management; name, image, likeness and ideas (NILI) education; market facilitation; and third-party initiatives.
Under its regulations, the NCAA limits how colleges can promote NIL deals for its athletes.
“We are limited in how we can do this by the NCAA’s policy, which says that we as an institution cannot pay them directly and we cannot create or facilitate NIL opportunities for them,” she said.
A common misconception in the NIL space is that third-party collectives are run by universities to pay and manage deals with athletes themselves, VeNard said.
“It’s important to understand that they are not us, even though the collectives associate with the institutions in the sense that that is who they support,” she said. “But there is both legal and practical and operational separateness between what they are doing and what the institution is doing.
As a result, the University’s main role is to educate on the resources available to students and how to navigate the NIL space, as long as Notre Dame does not offer legal or tax advice to its athletes.
“That’s a line that we’re not crossing,” VeNard said.
A role that Notre Dame can take on, however, is the responsibility to create a marketplace where brands connect to student-athletes and partner with local firms such as MOGL, a marketplace run by two Notre Dame alums.
“We also like that narrative,” VeNard said. “Brandon Wimbush, former quarterback at Notre Dame, had a very successful career and has now gone on to have a professional career in something other than football. That’s part of the Notre Dame proposition to come to Notre Dame, as well.”
Former Irish players also own collectives, such as FUND — Friends of the University of Notre Dame — founded by former quarterback Brady Quinn.
A key appeal of Notre Dame in the NIL market is the football program’s national market — a result of the school’s independent status and geographically diverse fan base, VeNard said. Making student-athletes aware of this distinction in the Notre Dame brand is one of the first steps of the educational role of the institution.
“The brand exposure they get simply by having Notre Dame across their chest is really valuable, and that’s a piece that we communicate and we help them understand,” VeNard said.
Student-athletes also have the opportunity to further learn about NIL in the classroom through a one-credit course taught by VeNard titled “Navigating NIL at Notre Dame.” The course falls under the sports, media and culture minor.
Another benefit Notre Dame gives athletes is access to its corporate partners, such as Under Armour. Since the activation of NIL, athletes collaborated with the brand for social media and in-store promotional photos at the University.
In the lecture, VeNard ran through what student-athletes can do, what they must get permission to do and what they cannot do under any circumstances.
Ground-level rules allow athletes to undergo self-brand promotion on personal accounts, including in Notre Dame-issued gear that is not an official uniform. Deals that must be first approved by the University include wearing a uniform in a brand advertisement and participating in “group activites,” such as the Irish offensive line securing an endorsement with Mission BBQ in Mishawaka.
🍖 @MissionBBQ has sponsored all 17 offensive linemen at Notre Dame
It's a movement 🍗 pic.twitter.com/OeBkautVQ5
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 7, 2021
Prohibited actions include any NIL activities during official competitions and practices and any deals with brands that do not adhere to the University’s Catholic mission — including du Lac. Some NIL regulations are paradoxically ironic, as VeNard said student-athletes “cannot gamble but they could promote gambling.”
Answering an audience question regarding how Notre Dame’s NIL rules compare with other football powerhouses — Georgia, Alabama, LSU, to name a few — VeNard said that Notre Dame has relatively “competitive” policies.
“Our policies are actually pretty competitive, in the sense that we have fewer banned categories,” she said. “We give more broadly licenses to use [intellectual property].”