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Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick calls NIL ‘a mess’, talks challenges in recruitment

Jack Swarbrick
Photo credit: Irish Sports Daily

In a live chat on Wednesday, Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick had this to say about NIL:

“It’s a mess. We as college athletics have completely screwed this up.”

For years, Swarbrick has been in favor of NIL, even to go as far as call it NILI: name, image, likeness and ideas.

He has supported student athlete passions and creativity, and in turn, believed they should be able to monetize their talents in order to make a living.

However, his comments on Wednesday show a different side of Swarbrick, a side of malcontent. 

As an administrator trying to develop 20 of the most elite teams in the nation across 15 sports, he has every right to be annoyed by it.

“What [Notre Dame] never anticipated was that it would come online with no regulation and that it would come online coupled with the unlimited right to transfer. It’s created an untenable situation, frankly, that most of what’s going on has nothing to do with Name, Image and Likeness,” Swarbrick said.

Due to new “pay-to-play” nature that the NCAA has yet to strike down on, college sports have become a black market.

“[Payments] are not commercial transactions where I am rewarding you for something great you’ve built or the fact you’ve got 5 million followers on your social media website,” Swarbrick said. “They are talent-acquisition fees, where I’m paying you to come to our school.”

One of the ways the black market is expanding is through third-party collectives.

They’re nothing new. Most schools have one, like Texas Tech and USC, that operate independently from the university to support the school’s athletes. It’s essentially a boosters club with fancy names.

At Notre Dame, it’s Friends of the University of Notre Dame (FUND). Among those involved in the fund are former football players Brady Quinn, Pat Eilers, and namesake of the ND School of Business, Tom Mendoza. The collective rewards student-athletes based on their work with charities, but according to their website, the funds are divvied out to specific players who get approved by the board and are matched with certain charities. Swarbrick’s issue with the collective is that it lacks structure, something he says needs to be established by the NCAA, and if not them, the United States government.

“It’s a little hard to see a way forward where congress isn’t involved,” he said. “The NCAA is so gun-shy about anti-trust lawsuits right now, for good reason. They’ve lost all of them. And so there is a lot of discussion with congress, interest in congress, but we all understand the challenges of getting congressional action these days.”

Swarbrick added he doesn’t see a change coming anytime soon.

“It’s tough when your most promising solution is also one that’s also so remote. So I think we’re going to have a couple more years of this absolute mess.”

On the bright side for Swarbrick, while NIL has casted a black hole to recruiting, his Fighting Irish football team is touting the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation in 2023 and 2024, according to 247sports.

To Swarbrick, the reason is simple: it’s Notre Dame.

“We’ve got a team of people working on [NIL]. But they’re true commercial activities based on real value. And that’s good. But we are we are focusing on the broader picture,” Swarbrick said. “Our greatest asset is to talk about the success of our student athlete alumni. We can point to people who have played football here at Notre Dame who are doing unbelievable things right now, having great success in their professional lives. And that’s the essence of the conversation.”

Swarbrick added that since become director in 2008, he’s discussed at lengths to his coaches on how to pitch the university. With NIL now in the fold, the message hasn’t changed: opportunity over money.

“Which of these looks better to you now? The payments someone’s offering you to come to school with no promise of anything else beyond that, or the opportunity to become a CEO or a leader in governance or a doctor or whatever it is you may want to pursue.” Swarbrick said. “And so, that’s been central to our notion. It is forever. The only way you can take advantage of that is if you go to a place that develops all the skills you need and empowers you. It doesn’t deliver it to you. It empowers you to have those benefits and reap those rewards.”