Notre Dame athletes embrace NIL opportunities on first day of new NCAA policy

Tyler James
ND Insider
Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton took advantage of the NCAA's new name, image and likeness policy on Thursday by making a paid promotion of the YOKE app on his Instagram account shortly after midnight. Photo: Chad Weaver, South Bend Tribune

Minutes after midnight Thursday, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton posted a blue image on Instagram with the word “YOKE” in the middle of the square. 

Irish running back Kyren Williams and wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. did the same. So did women’s basketball player Sam Brunelle. Many more followed suit Thursday morning including men’s basketball players Prentiss Hubb and Trey Wertz and more than a dozen other Notre Dame football players. 

The posts were all captioned the same way explaining that they were partnering with YOKE, an app cofounded by former Irish football players Mick Assaf and Nic Weishar that allows fans to play video games with athletes for various fees. 

“We are COLLEGE ATHLETES…” the captions read. “We are building our brands and working everyday to be the best student-athletes we can be. We finally have the chance to get paid for marketing opportunities. This is my first paid post announcing I’ve joined @yokegaming. All fans can now game with me on the @yokegaming app. All athletes DM me and I can help you get set up and let’s get PAID.” 

► More:How former Notre Dame QB Brandon Wimbush wants to help athletes profit from NIL

► More:How athletes at Indiana and Purdue are using NIL

The era of college athletes capitalizing on their name, image and likeness started Thursday with NCAA approval. The NCAA adopted Wednesday an interim policy for name, image and likeness (NIL), which became effective July 1 and will remain in place until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted. 

The interim policy put the following guidelines in place and ceded many decisions to states, schools and conferences. 

• Individuals can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located. Colleges and universities may be a resource for state law questions. 

• College athletes who attend a school in a state without an NIL law can engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness. 

• Individuals can use a professional services provider for NIL activities. 

• Student-athletes should report NIL activities consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school. 

The policy, which applies to all three NCAA divisions, prohibits NIL payments considered “pay-for-play" and “improper inducements” directly tied to recruiting decisions. 

Indiana does not have state laws covering NIL, which gives Notre Dame a bit of autonomy in creating its own NIL policy. An ND Insider request to access to Notre Dame’s NIL policy went unanswered by athletic department officials as of Thursday afternoon.

The only public comment from the administration came in a statement from Notre Dame President the Rev. John Jenkins in which he reiterated his support for student-athletes profiting from NIL use.

Some schools, like Indiana University, have already made their NIL policies public. The guidelines cover how university donors and sponsors can engage with athletes for NIL activity, the ways in which an athlete can use an agent, how IU’s intellectual property, including trademarks and logos, are protected in NIL activity, which products athletes cannot endorse, and how the athlete has to inform the athletic department of such NIL deals. 

Notre Dame may choose to mirror the policies set at other schools, but it won’t be required to do so. Being in step with any potential state legislation would be wise, but state lawmakers haven’t shown a public desire for NIL legislation in Indiana as of yet.  

The ACC, the conference in which most of Notre Dame’s teams play, has not established new NIL guidelines either. 

“The ACC fully supports its student-athletes and the opportunity to benefit from their name, image and likeness,” ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said in a released statement Thursday. “We appreciate the interim policy that creates a common standard and will continue working with congressional leaders to enact federal legislation, which is needed to protect and benefit all student-athletes in the long term.” 

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has been publicly supportive of Notre Dame student-athletes using NIL opportunities for profit. So much so that he announced in February that Notre Dame wouldn’t participate in the eventual return of the EA Sports College Football video game until rules were finalized governing the participation of student-athletes. 

"As those rules are developed,” Swarbrick said in his February statement, “it is our strong desire that student-athletes be allowed to benefit directly from allowing their name, image and performance history to be used in the game.” 

Former Notre Dame running back Mick Assaf used the NCAA's new NIL policy to spread awareness for his YOKE gaming app by paying college athletes across the country to promote the product on Instagram. Photo: Chad Weaver, South Bend Tribune

But as of Thursday, athletes like Kyle Hamilton can be paid to play video games through YOKE. A user must purchase coins through the YOKE app to challenge an athlete. The minimum cost listed in the app Thursday to request Hamilton was 200 coins, the equivalent of $2.99. Former Notre Dame quarterback and current New Orleans Saints rookie Ian Book requires 325 coins. Former Irish wide receiver Chase Claypool of the Pittsburgh Steelers requires 3,300 coins. 

YOKE announced earlier in the week that it would pay all college athletes to post promotion of its product on Thursday. Assaf estimated on Twitter that he would have 5,000 athletes signed up by early Thursday morning. Athletes from all across the country promoted YOKE including former Notre Dame football players Phil Jurkovec (Boston College) and Jordan Johnson (UCF) and several Alabama football players. 

Notre Dame athletes are making it known that they are open for business. Freshman offensive lineman Rocco Spindler tweeted a photo of himself wearing a Carhartt shirt and Bass Pro Shops hat and encouraged folks to reach out to him through direct messages (DMs). 

“With NIL getting passed by the NCAA, I would like to thank everyone that put endless amounts of time and energy for getting this passed!” Spindler wrote. “With that being said please DM with ANY OPPORTUNITIES you have!!! Thank you.” 

Payment for these NIL deals will likely be influenced by the reach each athlete has on their social media accounts. That means someone like Brunelle, who has more than 37,000 followers on Instagram, could command even more money than a football player like Hamilton, who has 17,300 Instagram followers. 

Notre Dame women's basketball player Sam Brunelle could attract many NIL opportunities with more than 37,000 followers on Instagram.  Photo: Michael Caterina, South Bend Tribune

Managing the various opportunities may require a serious time commitment and help from family or an agent. It’s all a matter of how much interest exists in the market. 

Hamilton, a likely first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft if he chooses to leave Notre Dame early, also announced Thursday on Twitter that he joined Cameo, an app that allows him to be paid to create video messages for fans.

He prepared for other offers by updating his Twitter bio. 

“Business Inquires:”

Follow ND Insider Tyler James on Twitter: @TJamesNDI.