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What could the new NIL rules mean for Northwestern?

In short: a lot, a little, or, maybe, nothing at all.

Vrbo Citrus Bowl - Auburn v Northwestern Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

In response to Inside NU’s call for questions for our (belated) end of June mailbag, Twitter user @HarryLe53758580 posed a most interesting query for our Editor-in-Chief, Daniel Olinger:

Yours is a most interesting question, @HarryLe53758580, and a most pertinent one at that, with seemingly all of the buzz in the college sports world relating to student-athletes’ newfound freedom to profit off of their name, image and likeness in one way or another. So today, I’m gonna answer it as best I can with what little we already know about NIL and what is already apparent about the NU Sports-scape.

For starters, it’s important to note the market that Northwestern provides recruits to generate revenue off of NIL. On one hand, Northwestern’s relatively small enrollment size (in comparison to other Power Five schools) means a smaller group of alumni, who often act as some of the biggest fans of their college teams. As such, this could be somewhat of a dissuading factor for student-athletes considering Northwestern who want to maximize their earning potential while still in college.

On the other hand, though, Northwestern’s unshared proximity to the Chicago market — the third largest city in the United States — sets it aside from practically any other college team. This could be especially appealing to local recruits who generated buzz during their high school years and want to carry over some of that appeal into their time in college. Given the significant amount of top tier recruits from the Chicagoland area — particularly in major revenue sports like basketball — this could be a huge plus for NU.

Of course, market size isn’t the only thing to consider here. In their statement regarding the rule changes, Northwestern noted that, in preparation for the shift, the school had “worked in collaboration with student-athletes and world-renowned Northwestern University educators to create a proprietary education curriculum that builds a foundation of personal brand awareness, financial literacy and strategic communications.”

This is where Northwestern’s particular academic strengths could come in handy from a recruiting standpoint. If I had to guess, most schools will be providing their student-athletes with some sort of marketing and financial education, but to have a curriculum designed (and supposedly taught) by industry leaders at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and the Medill School of Journalism’s Integrated Marketing Communications department might give Northwestern’s players a leg-up on the competition. Combined with the number of local business leaders who have graduated from NU and may be eager to partner with student-athletes from their alma mater on endorsement deals, this high-level education in self-marketing could mean that the Wildcats benefit from the new laws on the recruiting trail as a whole.

As for the differences between sports, athletes in the major revenue sports (football and basketball) will be the most likely to land major deals in college, so NIL potential could play a bigger role in their recruitment processes. At the same time, some of Northwestern’s best sports — namely its single strongest program, women’s lacrosse — don’t have massive professional leagues waiting for top performers on the other side of college. Thus, making money while still in school could be more of a priority to top recruits in such sports.

So, to conclude, it’s really not clear how NIL will impact recruiting at Northwestern across sports (if it has a significant impact at all). We’re in uncharted waters with these new rules, and with that foreign territory will likely come some equally unknown outcomes, which, for the reasons outlined above, could be both beneficial and detrimental to Northwestern’s recruiting pitch.