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Notre Dame Football

Balancing Ball and NIL

July 5, 2021

As of July 1st, we entered brand new territory with college athletics. It was the first day that students became allowed to profit off of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) and we’ve already seen some benefit from it.

Twin sisters who play for the Fresno State women’s basketball team signed a deal with Boost Mobile. Former Notre Dame walk-on Mick Assaf signed agreements with numerous athletes for his app, Yoke, which allows athletes to make money by playing video games with fans. A Marshall offensive lineman can now have paying gigs to play country music.

These are all good things for student-athletes who can finally be rewarded while competing in college athletics.

There have been plenty more NIL deals and this is only the beginning of these athletes being able to take advantage of new rules. It’s a great thing for athletes who have never been to take advantage of their prominence while schools have raked in millions in revenue, specifically in football and basketball.

Where things will go with this is completely unknown as we are less than a week into it. There will definitely be some interesting scenarios for Notre Dame football players, though. A fair number should be able to benefit from the exposure that the program’s brand can offer.

Pre-season All-American Kyle Hamilton is at the forefront of it with this year’s team. He’s already joined Cameo, created a sleek personal logo, and is about to launch a podcast with teammates Cam Hart, KJ Wallace, and Conor Ratigan. The one bonafide star player returning on defense in 2021, Hamilton is already being projected as a future top-10 pick in next spring’s NFL Draft.

He’s not someone with a significant social media following and he plays a position that typically doesn’t bring in big dollars when it comes to endorsements for pro football players. His freakish athletic ability that’s on display on Saturdays in the fall is by far his best selling point to make money with NIL and that is where a player of his caliber can take the most advantage of these new rules.

It could be as simple as working with Notre Dame and their apparel partner, Under Armour. When Manti Te’o was having his remarkable senior season leading the Irish to an undefeated record on the field, the campus bookstore was selling shirts with a lei on the collar with the classic interlocked ND logo underneath.

Something like that feels like a move that Notre Dame’s athletic department should be pitching to players like Hamilton in order to also benefit from the popularity of an individual player in addition to the regular team gear they sell. This may be something they want to be proactive with even before the season.

There’s also outside alternatives for players who can take advantage of viral moments like never before. The brand Breaking T specializes in real-time officially licensed products inspired by the greatest moments in sports. They’ve already created an NIL licensing program called RAMP (Real-Time Athlete Merchandising Program) for college athletes.

Breaking T has deals in place with numerous professional associations like the NFLPA, NHLPA, NBAPA, and more. Having a group license with them allows any of those athletes to basically take care of their business on the field and then get the opportunity to make passive income if and when Breaking T puts out a shirt with their NIL.

With no players association representing them, it’s up to the individual college football player to “opt in” explained Nicole O’Keefe, Breaking T’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. If Hamilton has a GIFable play where he makes a one-hand interception or someone like Kyren Williams has the kind of performance in a big game that puts him in the Heisman trophy conversation, they could have the opportunity to take advantage of it immediately provided they do opt in.

“If an athlete has not yet joined RAMP, we would need to get in touch with that athlete, have them join the program, and then we can start to design products,” O’Keefe said. “This slows down the process, so instead of releasing a shirt on Sunday morning, after a great performance under the lights on Saturday, we might not be able to design and release the shirt until the middle of the week, when fans may already be focusing on the next game.

“When there’s a moment, we will find a way to get in touch with those athletes as quickly as possible,” O’Keefe reiterated. “We are hopeful that for these reasons, athletes will join RAMP early to set themselves up for success. We see it as all upside for the athletes – we’re not trying to lock anyone to an exclusive deal, so why not sign up and have the opportunity for additional passive income?”

For a college athlete, it presents an alternative to having to manage their own merchandise or to strictly deal within the confines of the apparel deal a program has in place. If a player like former Notre Dame running back Josh Adams is looking for something other than what Notre Dame did with their “33 Trucking” Heisman campaign, a company like Breaking T could provide another option to examine.

Adams is also the perfect example of someone who no one was mentioning as a potential Heisman winner before the season. As he kept racking up 200-yard rushing performances, that changed and he would have been a candidate to take advantage of what Breaking T does with athletes and even sooner than when Notre Dame chose to dive in with their campaign.

There have been fans who have expressed concerns about NIL and how players will have time to manage everything outside of playing football and being a student. The reality is that this is all unexplored and it’s not going to be easy for players who want to excel on the field, classroom, and take full advantage of their new opportunities to make income.

We’ll see how players adjust in this new day in college sports, but one thing we do know is that they will have to be agile and react on the fly. Some players will have representation to help them. Others won’t.

Outsourcing some of that extra work to a company like Breaking T might be what works best for those that don’t have people who can do the work for them. That way players can focus on making plays on the field and doing well in the classroom while not worrying about things that could take up too much time outside of it.

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