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Penn State sports fans can buy trading cards featuring some of their favorite Nittany Lions as part of a new NIL initiative launched by Fanatics and Topps.

Fanatics announced Thursday that it has signed exclusive rights deals with more than 100 college athletic programs, including Penn State, to produce print and digital trading cards. The agreements will take effect from 2023-25, Fanatics said in a news release, though a limited offer of collectibles featuring football and basketball players will be available later this year.

The print and digital cards will include official school trademarks and feature current athletes as well as those playing professionally. Current college athletes will be compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The announcement marked the largest-scale effort involving college athletes and the collectible market. Fanatics also said it has signed NIL trading-card rights with about 200 college athletes, including Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young and fellow quarterbacks Stetson Bennett (Georgia), Caleb Williams (USC) and Bo Nix (Oregon).  

Dereck Lively II, a Bellefonte native and the Gatorade Pennsylvania Boys Basketball Player of the Year, is among the college basketball players who have signed NIL trading-card deals. Lively has committed to Duke.

“Fanatics has been closely monitoring the ever-evolving NIL landscape, and we felt this was the perfect time to launch multiple, strategic college trading card programs that will allow schools and current student-athletes to create new levels of direct engagement with fans across hundreds of the top programs nationwide,” Fanatics said in a statement. “There are tremendous opportunities for this untapped area of the hobby and to expand further across the collegiate sports landscape.”

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As the NIL marketplace nears its first anniversary, college sports stakeholders continue to grapple with its effects. Deals such as this represent what most in college athletics envisioned when states began allowing athletes to monetize name, image and likeness opportunities.

However, coaches and administrators are growing more vocal about the need to keep pace in a recruiting and player-retention market that NIL has come to dominate. On Wednesday, Penn State coach James Franklin issued a call to action for the athletic department and its fan base to push the pace regarding NIL.

“We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to put Penn State in the best position this season,” Franklin said, “and then also protecting our own roster for the future, and then also putting ourselves in a position to be able to tell a story and show the incoming guys what we’re doing and how we’re taking care of our program and our current roster.”

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