Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick Elaborates On EA Sports College Football Decision, NCAA NIL Rules Challenges
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Jack Swarbrick Elaborates On EA Sports Decision, NIL Rules Challenges

Jack Swarbrick was the first Football Bowl Subdivision athletic director to take a stand regarding the revival of the EA Sports College Football video game.

No name, image and likeness rules, no Notre Dame participation in the game, he said in a statement Monday.

The decision comes at EA Sports’ immediate expense, but is rooted in his desire for the NCAA to allow players to benefit from their potential presence in the game.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish director of athletics Jack Swarbrick
Swarbrick said Notre Dame won’t be in the initial EA Sports College Football video game until NIL clarity emerges. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

“We at Notre Dame feel strongly student-athletes deserve to have the same right as other students on campus,” Swarbrick said Wednesday on The Paul Finebaum Show. “We want to see it happen.”

It’s highly likely the NCAA will adopt NIL rules sometime this year — which is long before EA Sports College Football is expected to be released. The organization has said it plans to decide on NIL legislation soon. It tabled a vote initially scheduled for January. Elsewhere, more than half of the 50 states have introduced legislation granting NIL rights to college athletes, with some of them slated to take effect later in 2021.

Swarbrick’s wish for NIL benefits is all but inevitable. There’s an overall approval of the idea among many in his position, at the NCAA level and in local and federal government. But the actions in response to that unofficial consensus have been anything but in lockstep, like a dance recital no one bothered to choreograph.

“Sadly, we’re in a position where 31 states have adopted something or have something in the hopper, we have six congressional bills, we have the NCAA’s proposal,” Swarbrick said. “We have the Supreme Court weighing in. It’s going to unfold exactly as we hoped it wouldn’t.

“At the end of all this, we’ll get to some resolution. The student-athletes will have name, image and likeness rights, and I’m confident they’ll have them going into this next season.”

What’s not clear is how far the NCAA’s NIL rules will go and if they will allow for players to financially benefit from their names, images and likenesses in a video game. Group licensing is all but required for EA Sports to negotiate with players on compensation for their appearance in the game. The NCAA has previously come out against it.

“If we can’t figure out a way to allow the student-athletes to engage in group activity without having them classified as employees — that’s what the EA Sports thing is all about,” Swarbrick said. “You can’t say, ‘No group license, so they can’t participate.' That’s not fair. How do we get them to participate under some system that allows them to do that?”

As it stands now, EA Sports’ initial version of its new game won’t include video game characters that closely resemble a team’s players in position, jersey number and stature like the old ones did. Instead, it will use stadiums, logos, uniforms and traditions for more than 100 teams. But to start, Notre Dame won’t be among them until NIL rules are not only clear, but align with Swarbrick’s desire to make them far-reaching.

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It’s a desire he acknowledges will open up some tricky residual effects that make organizing video game appearances straightforward and devoid of drama.

“If we can’t successfully keep this out of recruiting, that would be really harmful,” Swarbrick said. “People fail to understand that of all the sports, local golf club, Little League baseball, college athletics is the only place that doesn’t have some way to control talent distribution. Little League baseball is geography. At the golf club, it’s a handicap. College sports has to be able to produce some version of that, or there’s no competitive equity and sports isn’t very interesting.

“If recruiting becomes about who has NIL deals in place that someone is offering to prospective student-athletes, then we’re going to get in real trouble.”

Preventative measures to getting there, though, would be nearly impossible to enforce because they would require the cooperation of people offering the endorsement deals. Those parties aren’t in the NCAA’s purview, and legislating their intent is not feasible.

As far as Notre Dame is concerned, it’ll try to avoid those situations as best it can.

“We’re not going to get into recruiting battles with another school because they can have a guy go to a car dealership and sign autographs for $10 an autograph,” Notre Dame associate head coach Brian Polian said on signing day. “If you’re picking Notre Dame, something like that is not going to be the difference in picking this education and this atmosphere in this incredible campus.

“If you want that, a car show is not going to be the difference.”

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