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Michael Mauti Motivated To Give Penn State Football A Modernized, NIL-Driven Edge Through Lions Legacy Club

When former Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti pledged to suit up for former head coach Joe Paterno’s squad in 2008, the four-star commodity elected to forge his own unique path in Happy Valley as a second-generation player. 

His father, Rich, donned the blue and white as a wide receiver nearly 35 years before his tenure, while Mauti’s brother, Patrick, also carved out a role with Paterno’s group as a pass catcher from 2005 to 2009.

Mauti’s deep family history entrenched in Penn State football’s esteemed tradition made his decision to sign with the Nittany Lions a no-brainer as a recruit. But, since the NCAA adopted interim NIL guidelines in July 2021, most high school prospects are now committing to high-level Power Five programs with monetary incentives in mind. 

Since then, Mauti helped start Lions Legacy Club in September 2022, which exists as Penn State’s only NIL collective with the sole purpose of enriching the football program’s resources in an ever-changing market. While many alumni and current Board of Trustees members are largely against adapting to the modern name, image, and likeness earnings model for current student-athletes, Mauti sees it as an essential aspect toward keeping the Nittany Lions competitive among the nation’s elite, playoff-caliber units. 

“From my standpoint, why I got involved and why I was a part of the founding team was to help advance our legacy of the football program, its culture, and its values into this modern era to help propel it,” Mauti said. “I felt an obligation and a duty to be a part of that effort.”

With roughly 673,000 living alumni, Penn State holds claim to the nation’s largest functioning graduate network, with nearly 26% serving as active, dues-paying members of the university’s official alumni association. 

However, when it comes to raising funds for the football program to expand its NIL footprint on the recruiting trail, within the transfer portal, and for player retention purposes, the Nittany Lions are arguably lagging more than any other perennial contender. 

Between Success With Honor, We Are NIL, and Lions Legacy Club fundraising avenues, supporters of the university’s athletic programs have been left out to dry when deciding which collective to support and where their funds are eventually directed toward. 

While many around Penn State’s community believe NIL funds should be split 31 ways to fairly equip each varsity sport, Mauti is preaching for the football program to receive its fair share of support first, corresponding to its annual revenue breakdown.

In its most year fiscal year financial breakdown, Penn State Athletics reported a $181.2 revenue figure, with $105 million, or nearly 60% of the total, being produced by the football program alone.

Although Paterno’s mantra for nearly 46 campaigns as the head coach was “Football is here to serve the university, not the other way around,” Mauti realizes that for Penn State to thrive as a university and an athletic entity altogether, football should be allocated more than a sufficient cut of resources to remain a household name.

“There has been a lot of noise and a lot of confusion within the Penn State ecosystem about what we should do, how we should do it, and all the entities involved, and there’s a lot of different opinions,” Mauti said. “…I’m preaching for alignment and unity on that front, but we have to address football first because football is the lead dog in the pack. If football is elevated, by extension, all other sports will have the opportunity to grow. That’s still to be determined and sort of play out, but I think we need to bring people together that understand what needs to be done and how to do it.”

At Michigan, for example, former Wolverines fullback Jared Wangler’s involvement in helping football players broker deals with companies looking to do advertising and marketing ploys led to the creation of the donor-based collective, Champions Circle. 

Before the Wolverines’ College Football Playoff matchup with TCU, Wangler told reporters that Champions Circle raised $7.5 million in NIL funds since June 2022 while also highlighting the long-term success of the university’s football and basketball programs as the forefront of its mission. 

Similarly, Notre Dame and Georgia have well-oiled, football-exclusive NIL Collectives in place, called The FUND Foundation and Athens NIL Club, respectively. While the deficient effects of Penn State’s scathing NIL scope haven’t yet shown their teeth from a football standpoint, Mauti is leading Lions Legacy Club forward in playing a swift game of catch-up to give the football program the reserves it needs to compete on equal footing.

“We are behind, and we do need to catch up quickly, and I think we will catch up quickly,” Mauti said. “There’s a lot of alignment and convergence happening as we speak, and since the Rose Bowl and the last few months leading up to the spring game, there’s been a lot of positives. We have a full team working on outreach, and it’s just been one conversation at a time in continuing to bring in all the resources by telling people how they can support our mission and here’s the direction behind it.”

In nearly a year since Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi and Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft regrouped the university’s reigns in key administrative roles, head football coach James Franklin has audibly preached his satisfaction in the “alignment” the two leaders have in place regarding the football program’s goals. 

However, the support of Bendapudi and Kraft alone hasn’t been enough to lift Penn State over its steep NIL hurdles. 

Just over two weeks ago, Mauti called out current Board of Trustees members Jay Paterno and Anthony Lubrano for their roles in “voting against football” from facility transformations to NIL initiatives, in which he said, “[Paterno’s] input on this matter is toxic, and [his] relevancy has expired in this era of collegiate athletics.”

As a result, Mauti and former Penn State linebacker Brandon Short have endorsed current Board of Trustees candidate Randy Houston, as well as Ali Kreiger and Uma Moriarty of the Penn State Forward ticket, to replace Paterno, Lubrano, and Alice Pope in the current election cycle, which began on April 10 and will run until May 4. 

“This is a big monster of a machine and an ecosystem where it has silos of revenue streams from different groups and clubs, so it’s just a matter of sound coordination,” Mauti said. “It has to happen, and it has to happen quickly because people have been doing things their way for a long time, and that’s what’s taking time to get moving… I’m hoping that I’m initiating that conversation in bringing people together to align and elevate the product.”

Ahead of Blue-White weekend, Lions Legacy Club is slated to hold its first-ever “Blue White Challenge,” beginning at noon on April 15 and spanning until the scrimmage’s conclusion in Lot 18. The limited-time marketing campaign pledges to give fans the opportunity to win signed merchandise by members of Franklin’s squad. No contribution is necessary to enter the memorabilia raffle, but with each dollar supporters donate, their chances of winning subsequently increase.  

Additionally, Lions Legacy Club has recently embarked on developing direct player engagement events, corporate marketing specials, and sponsorship deals, all in an effort to build a sustainable pipeline to avoid a direct “pay-to-play” model, which isn’t the collective’s intent.

“It’s not just handing out bags of money,” Mauti said. “That’s not what’s happening here, and that’s what’s happening around the country in some other places. We built this structure to cater to the specific needs of the football program and the businesses that support it, and to help connect and engage our fan base to help them understand why it’s necessary.” 

During his five-year career gracing Beaver Stadium’s premises, Mauti perpetually captured the soul of the Nittany Lions’ fanbase for his overarching ambition in return a once-acclaimed product back to its rightful position of glory. In 2012, the Louisiana native’s cornerstone role led Bill O’Brien’s group to a historic 8-4 campaign on the heels of crippling NCAA sanctions, mostly as a testament to his belief in the Happy Valley community as a whole.

Despite running out of eligibility, No. 42 is still as committed as ever to helping Penn State football reach the sport’s mountaintop, except this time, it’s without shoulder pads and cleats. But, his aspirations for Lions Legacy Club’s vision in giving Franklin’s crew a necessary push eerily coordinate with the passion he once carried on the gridiron as a former All-American. 

“We want to be the best,” Mauti said. “We want to be a top-five NIL collective in the country, and that’s the way it should be, and that’s what we’re going to be.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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