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Notre Dame Football Friday Fire: Ponying Up for the Irish

Or how I learned to stop worrying and love NIL

Less than a week ago, I was having a conversation with my family in which I expressed worries common to many Notre Dame Fighting Irish fans regarding the Irish community’s stance in the NIL era: namely, that Notre Dame - not only the university but the larger network of alumni and para-organizations around the country - didn’t have the stomach to match the funds on offer from the likes of the Texas Longhorns, Tennessee Volunteers, etc. It seemed unlikely that my alma mater, a school that has - rightly or wrongly - long prided itself on every following-the-rules cliche in the book, and whose university president and athletic director were once vocal opponents of pay-for-play, would be able to compete with teams unencumbered by such self-conceptions. Yes, there was the Irish Players’ Club; yes, there was Colin Cowherd; yes, there was the odd sponsorship or two; but these seemed paltry compared to what was on offer from other programs.

By the end of the Easter weekend, the Irish were already setting about proving me very wrong. If you missed the new developments in our articles or podcasts this last week, a quick summation:

While the scope of its operations has not yet been determined, the FUND Foundation gives Notre Dame’s well-heeled alumni a (tax-deductible!) opportunity to directly back Irish players, showing that the willingness to do so exists provided it is framed in the right language. Essentially, the foundation allows players to act as giving advisors to the foundation, selecting causes to receive backing along with the player himself. It’s a genuinely brilliant idea that makes me excited to see what will come next as players get opportunities to explore the causes they are passionate about off the field - and it also leaves open a ton of options to get, ahem, creative in the way the players earn their stipend.

Next came NBC’s announcement of its NIL Marketplace, which gives Notre Dame athletes an opportunity that presently exists almost nowhere else: getting connected to national brands for advertising opportunities directly from one of the largest broadcasting networks in the country. What is most important to me about this development is that - presently, anyway - no one else in major college football (sorry to our buddies at Anchor of Gold) can offer this type of opportunity to a recruit. Notre Dame’s relationship with NBC now isn’t just a way of telling a player he’ll be on national TV - it’s a way of telling him he’ll be making bank.

How these initiatives will stack up against efforts from other schools remains to be seen, but one thing has been made clear: Notre Dame is not going to be sitting on the sidelines and thumbing its nose in the NIL era. They are ready to bring it, and should be able to make a compelling pitch by adding these options to the traditional 4-for-40 value proposition. Far from being afraid of NIL, it’s time for us to get excited about the potential this new era brings.