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Notre Dame Football Recruiting

Marcus Freeman On Notre Dame, NIL & The Future

December 21, 2022

The irony is inescapable.

Notre Dame finally hires a head coach with a proven track record as an elite recruiter and almost simultaneously, the entire landscape of the sport is upended in a way that can neutralize the impact of elite recruiters.

When Name, Image & Likeness legislation was put into effect July 1st of last year, anybody following recruiting even remotely could see the inevitable path.

The only surprise about the emergence of collectives and reports of million-dollar deals for recruits is the speed with which they’ve become commonplace. In hindsight, it seems naïve to have expected a methodical escalation over the course of a few years rather than an all-out frenzy without so much as even a wink or a nod at the spirit of the rules.

At this point in the NIL Era’s infancy, kids choosing the easy money may be revealing themselves as the wrong fits for Notre Dame any way. Sure, the Irish’s 2023 recruiting class would be ranked higher today if it included Dante Moore, Keon Keeley and Peyton Bowen, but would it actually be better in the long run?

“Wasn’t the guy for us,” one source said in the immediate aftermath of one prospect’s defection.

Marcus Freeman echoed that sentiment during his National Signing Day press conference on Wednesday.

“If you’re coming here because of NIL, it’s probably not going to be the best place for you,” Freeman said.

The Irish will continue to focus on what makes Notre Dame special.

“If you come here and understand the value of this University, this network, this football team then you’ve got a great chance to stick it out when things get really, really tough because that’s college,” Freeman continued. “That’s 18 to 22, it gets tough. There are bumps in the road.

“The value of Notre Dame is going to take care of you for a long time.”

Freeman scoffed when asked about the idea of landing prospects via upfront NIL packages or “acquisition fees.”

“Acquisition fees? We don’t speak to that,” he said.

Freeman was just as dismissive at his Signing Day Press conference a year ago.

“I don’t want to do anything that has to do with breaking the rules,” he said on Dec. 15, 2021.

Some schools would roll their eyes at such a statement and the Irish will never be able to completely erase the gap between themselves and those schools when it comes to NIL – and nor should they.

Notre Dame sells itself as a unique institution within major college football.

But the Irish need to find a way to bridge the gap – within the rules, of course – or risk becoming a unique institution full stop.

Whether NIL continues to accelerate or market corrections force it to take a step back, it is here to stay. And, for a program with the kinds of goals Notre Dame has, it will be a factor in virtually every recruitment Freeman takes part in throughout his tenure with the Irish.

At last year’s Signing Day press conference, Freeman acknowledged as much while noting there were lines the Irish would not cross.

“I've told this staff that we're going to do everything we do with integrity and do it the right way, and we're going to win by outworking people,” he said. "That's going to be our mindset in football. That's going to be our mindset in recruiting. We're going to outwork our opponents.”

That is exactly how Freeman and his staff ended up with the type of 2023 recruiting class they just signed. The Irish won far more battles this cycle than they should have been expected to in the current landscape.

There’s no need for excuses given the group they inked today.

As other schools offered elite prospects large “acquisition fees” not disguised as anything other than “pay-for-play,” Notre Dame pitched its targets on what its brand can do for them long-term in terms of NIL, NFL and beyond.

Freeman, Director of Recruiting Chad Bowden and the entire Notre Dame coaching staff were able to use that sales pitch to sign one of the most impressive recruiting classes in recent memory in South Bend despite the current climate.

The Irish landed 24 recruits, 22 of which ISD rates as four-star prospects, upgrading their program across the board.

But Freeman is rarely satisifed and will continue to evaluate Notre Dame’s approach to NIL.

Even some of those recruits who turned down six-figure – or more – NIL deals to bet on themselves in South Bend aren’t sure Notre Dame’s current NIL policy is sustainable long-term.

On Wednesday, Freeman again acknowledged NIL as a major factor in recruiting while saying the Irish will evaluate why they landed the prospects they did and why they missed on the ones they didn’t.

“Some of them, we might have to say, ‘It wasn’t the right fit, it’s ok,’” said Freeman. “And some we’ve got to look and say, ‘We’ve got to evaluate the way we’re recruiting, what we’re selling, how we got to the point where they didn’t want to come here and decommitted.

“If you don’t learn from every kid who committed and decommitted, you’re losing a chance to grow.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re competitive. NIL is important to some of these recruits and we’ve got to make sure we’re competitive and I think we are.”

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