Illinois reflects on name, image, likeness changes at Big Ten Media Days

Vederian+Lowe+attends+the+NIL+bill+signing+at+State+Farm+Center+on+June+29.+Lowe%2C+along+with+all+Illinois+representatives+at+Big+Ten+Media+Days%2C+expressed+their+excitement+for+NIL+legislation%2C+which+went+into+effect+in+Illinois+on+July+1.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Glasgow / Illinois Athletics

Vederian Lowe attends the NIL bill signing at State Farm Center on June 29. Lowe, along with all Illinois representatives at Big Ten Media Days, expressed their excitement for NIL legislation, which went into effect in Illinois on July 1.

By Wes Hollenberg, Staff Writer

On July 1, bills went into effect in many states across the nation regarding NCAA student-athletes’ ability to make money off their name, image and likeness. Now that a few weeks have passed, some of the dust has settled, with various athletes now getting the chance to sign endorsement deals with brands. At the Big Ten Media Days on July 22-23, various Illinois athletes, coaches and directors had the chance to reflect on what these changes mean for Illinois so far and what they might mean in the future.

“That was a great opportunity to be a part of history,” said offensive lineman Vederian Lowe about being present at the Illinois NIL bill signing in Champaign. “That definitely hit me and set in that this is something that will forever change college sports in general. Now, everyone is able to benefit from their name, image and likeness. Now, people can gain profit off of the time that they spend dedicating themselves to their craft and their university.”

Among Illinois players, dream endorsement deals have ranged the full spectrum of companies, including anywhere from Nike to Huggies diapers. According to senior lineman Doug Kramer, the offensive line is looking to make a joint deal with a local restaurant.

“We’ve definitely been reached out to by restaurants in the local area,” Kramer said. “Right now, we’re just deciding on what we want for the offensive line. It’s a little bit unique because it’s a group decision. We’re all going to get an equal cut.”

The introduction of NIL legislation also has shifted the recruitment game significantly. According to head coach Bret Bielema, recruiting calls have shifted from questions about Illinois’ competitive situation to concerns over how being at Illinois can help an athlete get endorsements.

Though athletes are required to find endorsements independently from the schools’ involvement, it seems the location and reputation of a school likely will play a factor in securing endorsements. It’s unclear what the long-term impact will be for Illinois’ recruiting efforts, but it will be fundamental for Bielema to try to use this shift to his advantage and further his stated goal of improving in-state recruiting.

“I know it’s popular for people to say (NIL) opportunities in bigger cities (like) Minneapolis or Columbus are going to be more robust,” said Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman. “I tend to think a little bit differently. I think when you’re in a market like Champaign, when you have the proximity we have to Chicago, I think our student-athletes in our community are more recognizable. They’re a bigger deal. It’s kind of the big fish in a smaller pond concept.

“There’s a lot going on in those big towns, and in a place like Champaign, our athletic program is the focus.”

Going forward, the ability for Illinois athletes to secure endorsement deals may have as much of an impact on recruitment as the team’s ability to win games. Now that the genie is out of the bottle, it will be imperative for Illinois to find a way to use the NIL changes to its advantage in an offseason already ripe with change.

@WesHollenberg

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