Penn State and NIL: Where are the Nittany Lions and what are the coaches saying?

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Conversations between rookies and coaches at Penn State have taken a bit of a turn over the past year. With name, image and likeness opportunities giving athletes a chance to put some money in their pockets, it has become an inevitable part of the recruiting process.

“It’s coming,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said. “We’ve been blessed here at Penn State that it hasn’t come up a lot. It’s starting to make its way. … We talked to a few kids, and I can’t say the names, but they say, “This school gives me this and that,” and you have a conversation. “Did you sign your name on it?” So is it a contract or is it a false promise? And you’d be amazed at how well they’re picked up like, yeah, you’re right.

In late July, James Franklin was scheduled to travel to the Avalon Yacht Club in New Jersey for an evening with Penn State donors, according to a brochure obtained by Athleticism. The invite-only event focused on NIL’s efforts, including what those in attendance could do to help and what Penn State competitors are doing in the NIL space.

It’s no secret that Penn State lags behind NIL. Franklin and new athletic director Pat Kraft said as much.

“If we want to compete with the schools, not only in our conference but also nationally, we have to be prepared to do similar things. You can’t have it both ways,” Franklin said at the Big Ten media days. He was responding to a question about Ohio State coach Ryan Day saying in June that $13 million was the amount needed to keep his Ohio State roster intact.

“Engagement should match expectations and vice versa,” Franklin said.

Succeed with honorPenn State’s favorite NIL collective, has raised more than $1.5 million since launching in March, source says The Athletic. It’s not a football-specific collective, and so far has worked with more than 150 Penn State athletes across 25 sports. Success With Honor expects to continue to grow, and clearly it will.

Several football players have agreements with local restaurants, car dealerships and other businesses. Quarterback Sean Clifford has his own agency, Limitless NIL, to help athletes navigate the NIL space and counts several of his teammates among his clients. Security Ji’Ayir Brown, one of Clifford’s clients, recently had furniture delivered under a NIL deal with a local company. This summer, first-year running back Nick Singleton, a five-star rookie, signed what is believed to be a major multi-year contract with a home improvement company in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Details of it were not disclosed.

“We are Penn State. We should lead the country in NIL and we should lead the country in everything we do,” Kraft said last month. “We have to improve.”

Kraft added that Penn State is moving in the right direction and has expanded the educational component of NIL to help coaches and athletes better understand where to go and what they can and cannot do.

Penn State’s two football recruiting coordinators, Taylor Stubblefield and Terry Smith, said they try not to stress NIL when recruiting. But when it comes from a parent, high school freshman, or transfer portal target, they have to answer the question. Stubblefield said he knew players in his wide reception room had NIL deals, but he didn’t know or care how much money they were making.

“I know we try to be as aggressive as possible within the rules,” Stubblefield said.

Coaches can’t legally facilitate deals, but when asked about Penn State’s NIL plans in recruiting, Smith said he gave prospects a candid assessment.

“Play better. Elite guys get offers and then it’s easy,” Smith said. “It’s up to our head coach and the administration to sort this out. We go out and recruit guys like we have nothing, and if something comes up, it’s icing on the cake. It makes things easier.

Kraft said Penn State is working on group licensing, which would allow players to earn money off their jerseys and t-shirts. Thanks to the Success With Honor collective, players signed autographs and made appearances around town.

When defensive end Chop Robinson, a former top-100 recruit, entered the transfer portal in the spring after spending his freshman year at Maryland, he said almost every school contacted him. It could have easily become a bidding war for the collectives. Robinson said he came to Penn State with no promise or expectation of a NIL deal.

“My main focus was football,” Robinson said. “I’m not really a NIL guy. The money will come eventually (if you play). My main goal is football and just winning and improving as a player.

While Penn State struggles to figure out NIL — something Franklin said he hasn’t done quickly enough — the reality is that catching up won’t be easy. Ensuring that Penn State doesn’t tap into its own fan base by relying on the same donors is a challenge that all schools face. Penn State must keep working and hoping the massive alumni base and other businesses step up as coaches continue to navigate a changed recruiting landscape.

“You have to keep being yourself and every once in a while you find a diamond in the rough,” Seider said. “At the end of the day, everything will balance out. I say, ‘Look, we’re playing at Beaver Stadium. We have 107,000 fans (at Beaver Stadium).’ I think when NIL really kicks off and we’re all figured out, Penn State should be OK in that NIL game.

(Photo: Matthew O’Haren/USA Today)

Charles P. Patton