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Michigan State athletics goes all-in with NIL

Sophomore gymnast Skyla Schulte accepts an award at the EverGreen NIL Celebration held at the Tom Izzo Hall of History.
MSU Athletics
Sophomore gymnast Skyla Schulte accepts an award at the EverGreen NIL Celebration held at the Tom Izzo Hall of History.

The shift in collegiate athletics, allowing athletes to make money off their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), is something the Spartans hope to become a national lead in.

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State Athletics believes it is at the competitive forefront in beating out other schools for name, image and likeness (NIL) deals.

Ashton Henderson, MSU’s Executive Associate Athletics Director for Championship Resources, could talk about it for hours. His title is long and so is his reach across the athletic department.

Every major athletic department is navigating the new landscape, trying to best find opportunities for its athletes. Michigan State Athletics wants all athletes, from the high-profile stars to the newcomers, to find their place in NIL.

Matt Larson, MSU’s Associate Athletic Director/Communications, said there were a variety of goals, with the main one being for athletes at all levels to help realize their NIL potentials.

Tight end Maliq Carr accepts an award at the EverGreen NIL Celebration held at the Tom Izzo Hall of History.
MSU Athletics
Tight end Maliq Carr accepts an award at the EverGreen NIL Celebration held at the Tom Izzo Hall of History.

“Understanding there are different ways rather than just a,‘I'm Kenneth Walker, and I've got a car commercial that runs on local television, right?’” Larson said. “There are all different ways for student athletes to maximize their NIL opportunities. And I think the more that we can celebrate student athletes from many different areas from different teams, I think that encourages all of our student athletes because that's what we want to see.

“We want to see student-athletes from across all programs being involved with NIL.”

As another part of MSU’s push to separate itself from the pack, it hosted an EverGreen NIL Celebration Nov. 28 at the Tom Izzo Hall of History, in what the school deemed as a first-of-its-kind NIL event. Henderson was at the head of the event’s planning, where five MSU athletes were recognized for their NIL achievements.

This is the second NIL event MSU has held this year. The NIL Education Summit, staged last spring, brought together athletes, businesses and administrators to foster relationships and deals. Henderson is planning for the Summit to happen again next spring.

However, with legislation varying by state, Michigan State is not allowed to directly create any NIL deals for its athletes. It can though help support athletes in helping them seek partnerships.

Since the NIL inception in the summer of 2021, Michigan State athletes have landed multiple wide-scale deals with companies such as United Wholesale Mortgage and Michigan State University Federal Credit Union to boost the profiles of its athletes. Although, it isn’t anything all that unique, with many other schools connecting on large NIL deals and forming massive NIL collectives funded by donors and businesses.

According to Front Office Sports sports business reporter Amanda Christovich, who said about half of her job is NIL reporting on a national level, it’s unclear what determines whether a school is ‘better’ than another school when it comes to NIL. She said it can vary by the agenda of each school, but the education aspect can be a commonground.

In her opinion, Boise State stands out and excels at educating its athletes through NIL.

“It’s sort of like the difference between giving someone a meal and teaching them how to cook,” Christovic said. “Yeah, there’s no guarantee that all of these collectives are going to be able to sustain the level of investment that they’re making or even want to sustain it. It’s not as flashy, it may not be as lucrative in the short term, but in the long term there’s more benefits for athletes at a school like Boise State where they’re learning how having resources like getting an email about a deal and know that they have people that they can talk to.”

But, one thing does stand out to Christovic is Michigan State gymnastics’ recent NIL deal with Charitable Gift America. Announced in August, members of the gymnastics team inked deals that rewarded each athlete $5,000, with at least 5% donated to a charity of choice.

“The athletes that are smart are using NIL as almost like a resume builder,” Christovic said. “They’re literally, they can’t intern in the summer, or they can’t go abroad. They can’t have the similar experiences that the average student does.

“And then they get out of college, nothing on their resume besides sports. There’s nothing wrong with that, but NIL I would say gives them an efficient opportunity to get into the business world.”

According to Larson, who has been with MSU since 1998, much of Michigan State’s NIL success today can be attributed to what was done before the rule change happened. MSU made a conscious effort, once it began gaining steam to foster partnerships with companies such as INFLCR (pronounced “influencer”), to be prepared once NIL fully launched.

Before, INFLCR was used as a medium for athletes to access photos of them and their teammates. They then could download the photos and share them on social media – a loophole toward promoting the athletes’ individual brand without receiving any sort of compensation.

Now, INFLCR is even more powerful with the launch of the Michigan State Exchange, a service that helps connect athletes with businesses.

Michigan State AD Alan Haller speaks at the EverGreen NIL Celebration held at the Tom Izzo Hall of History.
MSU Athletics
Michigan State AD Alan Haller speaks at the EverGreen NIL Celebration held at the Tom Izzo Hall of History.

“We want to help support them by helping build their brand and we want to help them by providing that education because it's a new reality,” Larson said. “It's new for us in administration, certainly new for the student athletes, right? And it's not even something that they can necessarily talk to a former athlete about, because those athletes weren't able to go through it.”

Henderson and Larson both assured Michigan State will continue to execute on its bold NIL plans without yet wanting to reveal their hands.

“(The) Future is unknown, but one thing I do know for certain that Michigan State will always be in the prime position to be in the most innovative strategy and programmatic efforts for our students, for what we're building now from a strategic standpoint as well, which is very critical,” Henderson said.

Of course, recruiting is also a big part of the NIL puzzle.

“Michigan State and our athletics department has really, really wrapped its arms around NIL into something as a recruit,” Henderson said. “I'm so grateful that this event will be captured because it will be shown in arenas when recruits are on campus because it's one of its kind.”

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