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MSU's special advisor for name, image and likeness discusses student athlete compensation

 Darien Harris
MSU Athletics
Darien Harris

Michigan State University Athletics recently announced that Darien Harris will serve in a new role focused on how students are compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness, or NIL.

The former MSU linebacker has worked within the football program for the past three years, serving as the team’s Director of Player Relations and Program Advancement.

Harris has now been promoted to Assistant Athletic Director and NIL Special Advisor to the Athletic Director.

WKAR’s Al Martin spoke with Harris about the new position and why the MSU athletic department felt the need to create space for it.

Interview Highlights 

On how the new position came about for him 

This is Alan Haller’s vision of the next step for our athletic department. And he felt like we needed somebody over all of NIL, overseeing all of NIL for the department, having administrative oversight. And so, he reached out to me and said that, you know, for where he knows I want to go professionally, but also for the betterment of the entire athletic department.

On what makes MSU’s NIL program different that others around the country

We feel that NIL is synonymous with education. And if we can create a model where student athletes, of course, are able to monetize off their name, image and likeness and make money and do all those great things, but also on the other side learn what to do with that money, how the money works, how to have that money make more money and how to have a, you know, sustainable program, but also a sustainable opportunity to monetize themselves, not just here at Michigan State, but beyond, then we're doing our job.

On the thousands of college football players that have entered the transfer portal and how much of that could be NIL-related 

NIL should be a huge component to it because it is important, but it shouldn't be the end-all-be-all. This has become a business, though. So, you do have to start talking about the student athletes that you retain versus student athletes that transfer out. I mean, it's a brand new age.

Interview Transcript

Darien Harris: This is Alan Haller’s vision of the next step for our athletic department. And he felt like we needed somebody over all of NIL, overseeing all of NIL for the department, having administrative oversight.

And so, he reached out to me and said that, you know, for where he knows I want to go professionally, but also for the betterment of the entire athletic department, he felt like it was a role best suited for me to oversee all of NIL but also to serve as a special advisor to him in a lot of the endeavors that he has going on as well.

I'm obviously going to be bittersweet leaving the football program, but obviously now being able to work with all 23 varsity sports at Michigan State is going to be a tremendous honor.

So, I felt like it was the right time for me to make the move. I'm obviously going to be bittersweet leaving the football program, but obviously now being able to work with all 23 varsity sports at Michigan State is going to be a tremendous honor, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Al Martin: Now, as the Director of Player Relations and Program Advancement while with the MSU football program, you pioneered NIL education for the team and helped develop the “EverGreen” program, which was selected as the Best Institutional Program at this year's NIL Summit down in Atlanta. What is that program, and what makes what MSU is doing with NIL unique?

Harris: Right. So, the EverGreen program is the entire embodiment of our NIL platform, Michigan State. And through those pillars that we have with the program: brand, empower, educate and innovate. We've been able to make tremendous strides in the space for the betterment of our student athletes, and you know, we feel that NIL is synonymous with education.

And if we can create a model where student athletes, of course, are able to monetize off their name, image and likeness and make money and do all those great things, but also on the other side learn what to do with that money, how the money works, how to have that money make more money and how to have a, you know, sustainable program, but also a sustainable opportunity to monetize themselves, not just here at Michigan State, but beyond, then we're doing our job.

So, again, we always say that NIL is synonymous with education. It's a tremendous opportunity for these student athletes to get ahead in life, far more than you and I were at this age, based on what we're able to teach them. So, we just wanted to continue to build on the program.

As you mentioned, it did the Best Institutional Award down at the NIL awards summit in Atlanta, Georgia. And we're looking forward to continuing to progress in the space.

Martin: What concerns you about the current NIL NCAA model and guidelines?

Harris: I would say just the fact that there aren't too many guidelines. Everything is kind of state-by-state, even down to school-by-school. And, so it gets really difficult for several reasons, and just to mention a couple of them. One is recruiting has, of course, has changed dramatically. When you and I decided to go to school and to be Spartans, whether you're an athlete or not, the factors were about is it going to be a great education? Is it going to be great from the support standpoint? Are the people aligned with? Is the culture good? Am I going to like where I go to school? A lot of recruits now aren't necessarily always focused on that. It's just, “What's the NIL look like? What's the NIL look like?”

And what makes it even more difficult is what's happening in one school is completely different than what's happening in another school. So, they may hear something in one school, and then they think it just applies to every school in every conference. And that's not the case. So, we're trying to balance all of those things, while also trying to create a sustainable model, while also trying to bring in good recruits that match who we are as Spartans.

And so, having to balance all of that is rather difficult, but we're definitely up for the challenge. And, as you know, as we continue to mention, we did win a national award. So, I think we're doing something right. We do have championship caliber recruits and players and student athletes within our program, and we're going to continue to bring those into Michigan State.

Martin: We saw almost 9,000 NCAA football players enter the transfer portal between August of last year up until May of this year. From what you’re seeing and have seen firsthand, Darien, how much of this is NIL related?

It's a brand new age, as you know, in college athletics and you just got to make sure that you're keeping up with it and not getting left behind.

Harris: I would say a great deal. You know, I think it's NIL- related and then playing-time-related. And I would say that when it's playing-time related, it’s far more understanding. Like, "Hey, I'm at a place. I may have either gotten beat out, or maybe the system doesn't fit me like I thought and I need to go somewhere else where I can get a better opportunity to be out doing my athletic prowess the way I see fit." NIL should be a huge component to it because it is important, but it shouldn't be the end-all-be-all.

This has become a business, though. So, you do have to start talking about the student athletes that you retain versus student athletes that transfer out. I mean, it's a brand new age, as you know, in college athletics and you just got to make sure that you're keeping up with it and not getting left behind.

Martin: Darien Harris is the Assistant Athletic Director and NIL Special Advisor to the Athletic Director. Darien, thank you for joining me.

Harris: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

This conversation has been edited for content and clarity.

Al Martin is the host of Beyond the Score, a new series coming to WKAR in the fall of 2024. Al is also sports reporter for WKAR news.
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