By opting out of video game, ND calls attention to NIL issue

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA’s proposal to permit athletes to earn money from endorsements would stand in the way of players’ names, images and likenesses being used in EA Sports’ new college football video game.

Until that changes, Notre Dame doesn’t want to be in the game. The Fighting Irish are not alone among major college football programs passing on inclusion in the rebooted game until players can get paid to be in it, too.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told The Associated Press on Monday that the school went public last week with its decision not to be included in the game to call attention to a major issue that has not been thoroughly addressed as the NCAA tries to reform NIL rules: group licensing.

“I’m certain we’ll head into August with name, image and likeness in some form,” Swarbrick told AP. “Among my concerns is that the group licensing dynamic is just not getting the consideration it needs. It’s really complex.”

EA Sports announced last month it was relaunching its new college football series, eight years after the popular NCAA Football game was discontinued. The NCAA was sued by former college athletes for inappropriately using their images and likenesses in the video games and lost.

Notre Dame became the first school to publicly state it would not be part of the new game unless athletes could be compensated for it.

The game is about two years away from being available to consumers, but EA is in the process of acquiring the rights to logos and marks of each school. Swarbrick said that led to the timing of Notre Dame’s decision.

Since Notre Dame went public with its choice, Northwestern did the same in response to a question from the Chicago Sun-Times. Tulane issued a social media post similar to Notre Dame’s saying it would not participate.

Tulane AD Troy Dannen acknowledged that Notre Dame paved the way for its announcement.

“It’s not like the entire country gasps that they cannot be Tulane in the video game,” Dannen said. “This is about aligning and maybe putting the student-athletes’ interest before anyone else’s.”

Swarbrick said coming out in favor of clearing the way for players to be compensated for their participation in the video game was not about trying to rally support for that position.

“I wasn’t trying to encourage other schools to make any decision one way or another relative to EA,” Swarbrick said.

The NCAA’s NIL proposal tries to create separation between the schools and athletes. Athletes would be permitted to make money from sponsorship deals, personal appearances or for being an online influencer, but those deals would not involve the schools. Athletes would not be allowed to use school logos or marks.

That means under the current proposal, the video game could not depict specific players playing for their teams. The Clemson quarterback, for example, could not be identified as DJ Uiagalelei.

The NCAA’s proposal would not stop players from joining together for group licensing opportunities without the schools’ involvement. But the association’s desire to keep the brands of the athletes and schools separate will make it difficult for the players to capitalize on the return of the video game.

Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane’s Sports Law Program, said players being compensated for the video game is more of a joint licensing problem than one of group licensing. A joint agreement between schools, players and EA Sports would be beneficial for everyone involved.

“The value of these games is their realism and getting to control the actual player,” Feldman said.

There are also plenty of unanswered questions about how group licensing would work with college players. With professional athletes, players’ unions negotiate group licensing deals for members. No such union or association currently exists for college athletes.

“The fundamental problem here is: How do you do it effectively? How does it work?” Swarbrick said. “How do you legally bind a group? They’re not employees.”

“What is the mechanism?” he added.

The NCAA was prepared to vote on NIL legislation in January, but that vote was put on hold after the Justice Department warned the association its new rules could violate antitrust law.

The NCAA is also hoping for help on NIL from Congress. There have been five bills introduced related to college sports and NIL compensation since December.

Numerous state-level bills are also in the pipeline, including one in Florida that has been signed into law and goes into effect July 1.

The NCAA wants a federal law to usurp the state laws and provide some protection for further legal challenges.

On that front, the Supreme Court is set to hear the NCAA’s appeal of a ruling in a federal antitrust case.

Swarbrick said he is in favor of the NCAA waiting until the Supreme Court weighs in to pass its NIL legislation because the opportunity to take control of the issue has already been missed.

“We’ve got ourselves, as we frequently manage to do in college athletics, in sort of the worst possible position,” Swarbrick said.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.