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Student Athletes and NIL: ND Makes a Statement

By Patrick Byrne|Writer|Twitter @PatrickByrneIT

Photo Courtesy: The San Diego Union-Tribune

I'm going to assume many of you haven't read or heard about the op-ed written by Father John Jenkins and Jack Swarbrick that was featured in the NY Times earlier this week ("College Sports are a Treasure. Don't Turn Them Into the Minor Leagues," If you haven't had a chance to read it, I'd encourage you to check it out. In the mean time, I wanted to give my thoughts as the article made it pretty clear where the university stands when it comes to quite a few things, including: student athletes as actual students, NIL and the importance of women's athletics. For the purpose of this article, I'm going to focus on the student athlete and NIL portions of the op-ed. Let's take some quotes from the article and discuss the "why" behind each statement:

"We call on universities to reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and to ensure that their athletic programs serve the schools' broader educational mission, not the other way around."

If you're a Notre Dame fan, you should already have an understanding that student athletes at Notre Dame are exactly that. They're expected to live in the dorms with their classmates, go to class and excel both academically and athletically. One is not more important than the other, regardless of what us football fans may think. If the star quarterback happens to be playing well, all the better of course, but not to the detriment of his studies or ability to graduate on time. Notre Dame holds itself to a high standard and is asking other institutions to do the same.

"We call on the N.C.A.A. and athletic conferences to set policies that support that goal. And we urge Congress to protect the N.C.A.A.'s ability to regulate the competition for new players to ensure it remains fair and above board."

By now, we all realize that the N.C.A.A. is a mess. Legally, they don't have the ability to reign in N.I.L. at this point, so Notre Dame is attempting to further the discussion of having Congress get involved and assist. I highly doubt I'm the only one that's listened to sports radio commentators mention the same idea over the last couple of years; Notre Dame is simply throwing their muscle around to make their thoughts on the subject clear. As I've mentioned in past articles, Notre Dame continues to be THE premier brand in college football. The fact they're asking Congress to get involved most likely means the discussion will at least move further down the path than it may be as of today.

"We have been vocal in our conviction that student-athletes should be allowed to capture the value of the use of their name, image and likeness (N.I.L.) - in other words, profit from the celebrity - for one simple reason: Other students are allowed to."

There is a misnomer among Irish "fans" that the university or Jack Swarbrick himself is against N.I.L. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both the university and Swarbrick fully support the idea of N.I.L.; however, they don't support the idea of simply providing cash to a student athlete just because they graduated high school and have 4-5 stars behind their name. This is made even more clear as the article continues:

"To avoid the N.C.A.A. prohibition against directly paying athletic recruits, many schools funnel money to recruits under the guise of a supposed third-party licensing deal - regardless of whether a players name, image and likeness have any market value whatsoever."

Now we get to the meat of it, the cooperatives. Ah yes, the Texas A&M, Texas, Florida, etc. cooperative. To the average Notre Dame football fan, they're trying to understand why "we" don't have cooperatives. Why aren't "we" shoveling out wheelbarrows of cash to recruits in order to get them to come to Notre Dame? Well, that's not how Notre Dame operates. If you don't know that by now, you truly do need to be a fan of a different team. As much as I love the football team, I understand it's not the only thing the university cares about. It's extremely important of course and leadership certainly wants to win a National Championship, but it will be on their terms, and no one else's. This is frustrating at times, no doubt, but the sooner you accept this being the case the more likely you'll embrace the differences and "us vs. them" mentality and be all the better for it.

"Economists estimate a college degree is typically worth about $1 million in enhanced earning power in a lifetime. At our institution, 99 percent of student-athletes who stay for at least four years get a diploma. Because less than 2 percent of all our student-athletes will play in their sport professionally, such a benefit is useful indeed."

Again, this speaks to the mission of the university. Be great at sports, yes, but transcend this thinking to academics and all other aspects of your life. You will most likely not be a pro athlete. Think about your life post college and where you want to be. This has been a recruiting pitch starting with Brian Kelly that is still used today (4 for 40). It means something, and can be a powerful tool, if you position it correctly to the kids who embrace it.

"Professional athletics must play a role, too."
"The N.F.L. offers no alternative to intercollegiate football until a player has been out of high school for at least three years. Both policies push talented young players to enroll in college regardless of whether they have any interest in the educational experience it offers"

As you can see, this is a bit of a "take no prisoners" article as Jenkins and Swarbrick

mentioned not only the N.F.L. but also the N.B.A (and the one and done issue) along with the N.H.L. I for one agree with the approach. If you're going to put this out there, put it all on the table. I'm not sure anyone cares to watch a minor league N.F.L. but I can't imagine it being a whole lot different than the current U.S.F.L. or XFL iterations that are already in place.

"Professionalizing teams, treating athletes more as employees than as students weakening the vital connection with the educational mission of their colleges will rob college athletics of its special character. Gradually it will be seen as merely a version of the professional minor leagues."

My friends and I have had many conversations about this over the past few years. What if universities do split from the N.C.A.A. and form their own "league" along with treating players as employees versus student athletes. Would we still watch? The answer is, I'm not sure. I prefer college for several reasons; the pageantry, traditions, over sized and sometimes cramped stadiums, you name it. I love it all. I find the N.F.L. to be too antiseptic, with field turf, domes and mid .500 teams vying for a playoff spot. Who cares? I guess I just answered my own question, I don't think I would watch if college football simply became a minor league N.F.L. Too much of why I love it would go away, and there'd be no reason to watch it if 6-4 Notre Dame still had a shot to make the playoffs. They wouldn't be deserving. That to me would be a pretty miserable season and team to watch.

By all accounts, I agree with what was said in the article. I have no desire to see Notre Dame cower down to the dregs of the college football world and pay players who have shown zero value other than a Rivals ranking. I have no issue with a college athlete making money off their name name, image or likeness mind you, I simply feel the current model is both unstable and quite honestly unfair to the student athlete. We've seen countless young athletes fail miserably when the "big payday" comes their way. The universities need to band together and come up with a better way and better plan for athletes to be compensated. A plan allowing for long term success rather than short term riches.

The opinion piece showed both the president and athletic director are aligned in the mission of the university and will not compromise in how they wish to deliver that mission to both student athletes and non-student athletes. I applaud them for having the courage to stand up against the current model and for using the Notre Dame brand to further enlighten others on what needs to be done, how and why. It's critical we get this right, if not, we'll be staring down the barrel of a Notre Dame vs. William and Mary homecoming weekend. No offense to the good folks at William and Mary, but I'd rather watch the Bush Push game on a continual loop than to have to sit through that.

Jenkins, Fr John and Jack Swarbrick "College Sports are a Treasure. Don't Turn Them Into the Minor Leagues," 23 Mar. 2023,


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