NU, NIL & Boo: A Reality Check

The adrenaline rush from Men’s Basketball surprise run has made "How can they keep the band together?" the NU sports fan topic du jour.

Speculation on keeping the Boo/Chase tandem in Evanston centers on crafting attractive NIL deals that "make them an offer they can’t refuse." The theory being that generous financial incentives are the best chance to induce another run at glory, even if that chance is slim.

Having only a cursory understanding of the NIL system I did a bit of research to get better informed. Here's some of what I found - sadly it's led me to conclude it’s extremely unlikely that NIL is a realistic tool to keep the Buie/Audige tandem. Here’s why.

On 12/28/22 noted the founding of the TrueNU NIL Collective and reported:

Northwestern head football coach Fitzgerald made clear last week on national signing day, Northwestern will not use NIL as a recruiting inducement. That is supposed to be against the rules but seems to have become a common practice across the college football landscape as the NCAA’s enforcement arm seems to have very little teeth these days.

"We’re not going to be part of that," said Fitzgerald defiantly. "I understand what’s being said out there. We’re going to follow the rules, we’re going to do the things that fit Northwestern and the expectations we have here as a university and as a community."

I did a double-take upon reading the quote and particularly focused on "against the rules." I thought the whole point was that NIL was designed to be a primary recruiting tool. Well it turns out it indeed is against the rules according to The Athletic last May.

A relatively new NCAA subcommittee just spent a few months working on the newly-released NIL guidelines clarifying that collectives are considered boosters, so they’re subject to the NCAA rules prohibiting booster involvement in recruiting. The Division I Board of Directors issued that guidance to Division I on Monday, meaning that the NCAA enforcement department should soon begin cracking down on collectives and other boosters offering recruiting inducements.

Some legal experts believe the NCAA would be opening itself up to further antitrust scrutiny if it attempts to levy sanctions in this space. We won’t know for sure until the first NCAA investigation into a collective comes, which would likely prompt a lawsuit and, subsequently, a judge’s decision on whether the NCAA can legally enforce its rules or not.

So pending legal challenges it appears that Fitz is right – inducing recruits with NIL promises would be a major violation. Whether it’s been going on or not and whether it will be enforced or not are other issues I’m not going to tackle here. The bottom line: "The Northwestern Way" would preclude using NIL deals as a recruiting inducement. They won’t do it.

But what about for guys that are already here? Guys like Boo and Chase. Can University personnel act as a facilitator to get them the kind of juicy deals that might entice them to return to Evanston?

Apparently not according to Athletic Licensing Company which wrote on their website about NCAA email guidance from late February – though the year is not noted …

...the (NCAA) email continues, "This prohibition also applies to entities acting on behalf of the institution."

That should leave intra-institutional collectives sweating.

Recently, there have been high-profile launches of what look like intra-institutional collectives, such as Yea Alabama which calls itself "the official University of Alabama NIL entity,..."

The NCAA guidance seemingly slammed the door on these entities by barring coordination between collectives and university officials. And that's not the only clarification the governing body offered.

The guidance also states that institutions are prohibited from providing "institutional assets and resources (e.g., tickets to athletics events, priority access, and seating, personnel, sponsorship/advertising/promotional opportunities) to entities engaged in NIL transactions unless those assets are available to and on similar terms as other sponsors."

Interestingly, the NCAA does not mention institutional intellectual property. That means that, as of now, collegiate departments can arguably continue facilitating the licensure of their names and logos through their IP rights holder (e.g., CLC, Fanatics) to bolster their athletes’ NIL deals.

So unless these pieces are out-of-date it would appear that playing by the rules would preclude the Athletic Department or any University personnel to try to serve as an intermediary between any NU NIL group and current or prospective athletes. If all that remains operable, it seems like an organized NIL centered strategy designed to keep Chase and Boo at NU is a massive longshot.