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August 26, 2022

Open Letter from Josh Whitman Introducing NIL Impact

To Fighting Illini everywhere,

In just one year’s time, the name, image and likeness phenomenon (NIL) has transformed high-major collegiate athletics. The newly created opportunity for student-athletes to earn third-party compensation has quickly become a crucial part of the student-athlete experience. In recent years, Illinois Athletics has reasserted itself as a leader in the college sports world through the exceptional support that we offer to our student-athletes, including a premier education, state-of-the-art facilities, and the best coaching and athletic development in the country. As a result, we have been able to win championships and create lifetime memories that should make us all proud. To sustain and accelerate our success, it is now evident that we must also operate an elite NIL program.

Last year, we anticipated that NIL would be the biggest change to college athletics in over fifty years. Illinois Athletics took a leading role in the formation of the Student-Athlete Endorsement Rights Act, the state legislation that ensured Illinois student-athletes would be able to access NIL opportunities as immediately as their peers across the country. We also introduced our INFLUENCE program, which focused entirely on educating student-athletes and communities about NIL’s new possibilities. In addition to our focus on education, we understood from the outset that NIL would be a key competitive endeavor: a robust NIL program for current student-athletes has become imperative to attracting and retaining the caliber of athlete necessary to compete for championships.

Today, NIL provides us with an opportunity for rapid advancement that is unique in the history of Illinois Athletics. In a landscape dictated by precedent and tradition, disruption has unveiled the potential for growth. NIL creates an accelerator to improve our programs in the near term, and DIA encouraged recent amendments to our state law that allow us to help press on the gas.

With that context as a backdrop, I would like to introduce NIL Impact, a new Division of Intercollegiate Athletics campaign where we are asking everyone to support NIL engagements for Fighting Illini student-athletes. There are three primary methods of support:

  • Join the Collective: Purchase a monthly or annual subscription from Illini Guardians, the third-party nonprofit entity designed solely to support Illinois student-athletes. Payments to Illini Guardians are pooled to create NIL opportunities between Illini Guardians and Illinois student-athletes for the benefit of community service organizations. Go to illiniguardians.com to join.
  • Work Directly with Student-Athletes: Reach out to NILimpact@illinois.edu or any member of the Illinois Office of Athletic Development. Our staff will be willing to help facilitate special opportunities for you.
  • For Corporate Marketing Opportunities: Partner with our student-athletes for your promotional services using our Illinois Marketplace at opendorse.com/illinois-fightingillini. If you prefer, contact NILimpact@illinois.edu or any member of the Office of Athletic Development and we can help assist your marketing arrangements.

While NIL may be rooted in traditional marketing strategies, today’s reality has evolved quickly beyond that. Corporate brands are continuing to engage with student-athletes, but the combined effort of fan bases has unquestionably made the greatest impact on competitive outcomes. At Illinois, Illini Guardians has emerged as the most cohesive, straightforward means of supporting our student-athletes through NIL. DIA fully endorses Illini Guardians, and we are in regular communication with its leadership to ensure compliance, transparency and trust as the organization helps advance our mutual mission to support our student-athletes and our communities.

Some of you may be feeling wary about supporting student-athletes in this way. That is certainly understandable, given that activities now allowed under the new NIL paradigm were prohibited by NCAA rules for generations. The simplest truth is that NIL is our best chance to create sustained growth in a relatively short time. I can assure you that NIL at Illinois will be run in a positive and compliant manner to serve as an example of what is possible when an institution and its passionate followers come together to support student-athletes.

On behalf of our coaches, staff and student-athletes, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to those of you who have already supported us in this effort. Every success story has the potential to spark another. Please encourage others in your Illini network to support NIL as well.

Our task is not easy: We will need several million dollars of annual NIL support to reach our objectives. Some of our key conference competitors have spoken openly about NIL fundraising targets above $10 million. If we are to outperform them in competition, we must outperform them here as well. Each NIL opportunity made available to our student-athletes benefits them and, by extension, improves our opportunity for competitive success. The amount is not as important as the action; whether you can afford $50 or $5 million, we will need everyone to help if we hope to turn this unprecedented moment into a groundbreaking opportunity for our programs.

Since my time as a student-athlete, the Illini Family has always been, and still remains, loyal, progressive, and highly motivated to compete at the highest level. As we begin this season of Illinois Athletics, we must move thoughtfully yet aggressively in this new NIL realm to reach the pinnacle of college athletics. Acting together, with a motivated, unified #famILLY, we can accelerate the upward trajectory of our beloved Fighting Illini in a way never before possible in our history.

Most sincerely,

Josh Whitman