To say that Pitt has experienced the ups and downs of name, image and likeness deals as greatly as any program in the nation would be accurate.
Kenny Pickett, Cal Adomitis, Tre Tipton, Carter Warren, Johnny Petrishen and now Deslin Alexandre have all turned their pull as leaders on and off the field to into their own NIL deals to give back to their local and at-home communities. But of course, the lure of NIL opportunities also led to Jordan Addison exiting Pitt in the most highly publicized departure of the offseason.
So, yeah, while Pitt has used NIL opportunities in the way they were intended (and given back in ways that perhaps couldn’t have been expected), Pitt has also been the victim of what head coach Pat Narduzzi has called “pay-to-play” opportunities.
“I love the opportunity for our players when you talk name, image, and likeness to make money,” Narduzzi said Thursday at the ACC Media Days. “I want our players to make as much money. And we talk a lot about branding. I told our guys on our trip down yesterday, this is a big and a great opportunity to brand yourself. Who are you as a person? What do you stand for? Those type of things.”
Pickett was nationally lauded for his NIL initiatives, which emphasized philanthropy as well as his teammates. Pickett’s efforts included events with the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania, Make-A-Wish of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the Dollar Energy Fund and Voting Matters campaign. Pickett also donated his student-athlete per diem so that local youth teams could have resources to purchase bottled water for practices and games.
Petrishen is another who patnered with a clothing company to give back to the local community. A native of nearby Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, and Central Catholic alumnus, he partnered with Campus Mogul to launch “Team JP” and “Johnny Football” apparel, with all proceeds going to the Knead Community Cafe in New Kensington. Petrishen donated a free meal to the cafe for every tackle he made last season with the proceeds of his apparel funding the meals.
Cal Adomitis announced “Cal’s Kids” fundraiser to benefit the children at the UPMC Children’s Hospital. Adomitis, a Pittsburgh native who attended Central Catholic, announced a goal of $94,000, with the promise to shave his signature long, curly hair if the goal was met. And of course, he hit that goal and then some, raising over $115,000. And he shaved his long locks too.
Tipton, a native of nearby Apollo, Pennsylvania and the recipient of the 2021 Disney Spirit Award as college football’s most inspiring player, partnered with Spreadshop to provide apparel. 25% of all proceeds from Tipton’s apparel sales went to his organization, L.O.V.E., to shed light on suicide and mental health awareness.
Carter’s own “Carter’s Creation Initiative” partnered with Brushes & Beans Cafe and Ithen USA to spend the day with the local kids of the Millvale Boy’s and Girl’s Club to interact at a one-on-one, interpersonal level and partake in fun activities and events. Which is the continuation of Pickett’s own efforts from a season before.
And the latest effort from Alexandre, the founding of the Fifth Down Foundation, is a partnership with the Pittsburgh Kids Foundation, with the goal of raising $50,000 in order to provide better schooling, food and more for children in Cap-Haitien, Haiti — Alexandre’s hometown.
“I think the initial name, image, and likeness was to sell your brand, sell your jersey, to watch No. 5 (Deslin Alexandre) or No. 7 (SirVocea Dennis) walk around, No. 77 (Carter Warren) walk around with their jerseys and sell their jerseys, and the more jerseys you sell, the more money you make,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s where initially it stood with name, image, and likeness. You have heard the story, this is old news. Now it’s become more of a pay-for-play.
While Pitt’s student-athletes have been able to capitalize off their name, image and likeness in the form of meals for teammates, sponsorships with car dealerships like Bowser Automotive and just the ability to sign deals, a lot of it did come down to volunteerism in the community. It came down to giving back. And while Jordan Addison also gave back, he also left because of NIL. And it’s not just Addison either; that’s just the area of NIL that has come into controversy.
When Addison entered the transfer portal, all along destined for USC despite the spectacle of his recruiting chase following the portal entrance, it came after the early rumors of USC offering NIL opportunities while Addison was still a student-athlete at Pitt. But it’s not just that specific scenario, it’s the pay-for-play — using NIL deals to lure recruits to schools — that has Narduzzi fearing for the future.
“Obviously, you can’t like where that’s going, but I think the NCAA, somebody will get ahold of it and try to put some constraints and some borders on the whole thing,” Narduzzi said.
And ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips echoed the same sentiments that Narduzzi spoke of a day beforehand when he opened the ACC Media Days down in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“As everyone is aware, student-athletes have rightfully been able to earn money related to their name, image, and likeness over the past year,” Phillips said Wednesday at the ACC Media Days. “It has provided some outstanding opportunities that we all celebrate. However, the lack of a single enforceable standard for NIL across the schools and all states has created an environment where inducements inaccurately labeled as NIL are disrupting recruiting.”
Phillips said that the regulation of recruiting is essential for fair competition in college football, and that the rapid implementation of NIL has upended recruiting. He pointed to NIL rules differing when it comes to the individual state level and a non-existent regulation and enforcement.
“The ACC student-athletes that make up our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, who are here in the room today, continue to engage with members of Congress on finding a regulatory solution that is national in scope and fair while still allowing for outstanding opportunities,” Phillips said.
As Phillips said himself, enforcement of NIL rules is incredibly challenging, and it will be tough for Congress to enact regulation in the face of what’s going on in the world — in what dwarfs the threat of NIL on a grand scale — but it’s clear that NIL has a long, long way to go until it’s settled. And no one can be quite sure how that will turn out.