CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Kathleen Knight, a former Illinois swimming letterwinner and development officer in the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics, has announced the official launch of ICON Collective to provide name, image and likeness opportunities to Fighting Illini student-athletes. Knight serves as president and CEO of the newly formed collective, which has filed for 501(c)(3) status. As a charitable organization, NIL contracts will benefit the good work of other non-profit organizations locally, regionally and nationally.
Meaningful updates to NIL guidance issued by the NCAA in October 2022 required college athletics programs to alter their approach in the NIL space, making strong day-to-day leadership and direction in collectives imperative to NIL success. The guidelines limited athletics department involvement in NIL, putting more weight and responsibility on third-party collectives.
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“We have seen over the last year and a half that NIL continues to be one of Illinois’ greatest opportunities to gain and maintain a competitive advantage. When the concept for ICON was coming together, we saw an opportunity to not only provide significant NIL opportunities to Fighting Illini student-athletes, but also to positively impact our local community and beyond. It felt like a win-win, and our early work at ICON has proven that to be true,” Knight said.
Knight officially formed the business, ICON Collective, Inc., in November 2022. The organization’s application for 501(c)(3) status is pending approval from the IRS, with an expected response in the summer of 2023. If/once approved, donor contributions to ICON Collective will qualify as being tax-deductible.
ICON Collective’s core function is to secure charitable contributions and offer meaningful NIL partnerships to Fighting Illini student-athletes for their participation in community service initiatives in and around Champaign-Urbana and, in some cases, well beyond. Additionally, ICON Collective equips Illinois student-athletes with meaningful life and entrepreneurial skills that will positively impact their lives long after their time at the University of Illinois is concluded.
“Name-image-likeness has taken the college athletics landscape by storm, creating an opportunity for programs like ours at the University of Illinois to advance themselves competitively while, at the same time, providing tremendous benefits and life experiences for our student-athletes,” said University of Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman. “We are grateful to Kathleen and Jackie, two former DIA administrators in whom we have incredible trust and confidence, for their unrivaled integrity, creativity, and leadership in assembling the ICON Collective. This effort sets a new standard for benefiting many different stakeholders through NIL, including, notably, local nonprofit organizations. We are excited about the work they have already undertaken and look forward to their future successes.”
During the first several months of its existence, ICON Collective has offered more than $1.5 million in contracts to Illinois student-athletes. Student-athletes across multiple sport programs have already been activated in the community, participating in meaningful community service activities.
“Partnering with ICON to provide opportunities for Stephens Family YMCA youth to interact with the student-athletes has been incredible,” said Renae Cory, Development & Marketing Director, Stephens Family YMCA. “While stars on the court or on the field, the student-athletes are humble and outstanding with our kids. It has been a joy to watch them be totally immersed in our youth programming. The interactions – whether it be playing a game of knock-out, singing karaoke, helping with homework, reading a book, or simply hanging out – are interactions these kids will never forget. Lifetime memories are certainly being made. The student-athletes are a positive influence, something every kid could use more of. The difference the student-athletes are making in the lives of our young adults is immeasurable. Because of them, I am positive that today’s girls and boys will become tomorrow’s leaders. Jackie and Kathleen have been wonderful to work with and we look forward to our continued partnership. Thank you, ICON, for making a difference.”
Currently ICON Collective, INC., has two full-time employees, Knight and former DIA Assistant Athletic Director for Golf Operations Jackie Szymoniak, who serves as the organization’s Chief Operating Officer.
"We saw an opportunity to not only provide significant NIL opportunities to Fighting Illini student-athletes, but also to positively impact our local community and beyond. It felt like a win-win, and our early work at ICON has proven that to be true." - Kathleen Knight, ICON President & CEO
Knight previously served as the Assistant Athletic Director for Development in Chicago for the DIA. Prior to her tenure at Illinois, she worked in various roles in the marketing and finance worlds.
Knight concluded her undergraduate studies at Illinois in 2013 with a major in advertising and a minor in business. She was a four-year letterwinner on the Fighting Illini swimming and diving team from 2009 - 2013. In her final season, Knight was awarded the Klingel Athletic Award, given to the top-performing senior athlete. She was also an Academic All-Big Ten Honoree from 2011-2013. Knight completed her Master of Business Administration in December of 2016 from the University of Illinois - Chicago, with concentrations in finance and marketing.
Szymoniak comes to ICON following more than 10 years in the DIA working primarily with Illinois’ men’s and women’s golf programs. She arrived in Champaign in April 2011 as an assistant coach for Fighting Illini women’s golf. In 2013, Szymoniak became the Director of Operations for men’s golf and assisted Coach Mike Small’s program with daily program management, oversight of the program’s state-of-the-art facilities, and stewardship of the golf program’s fervent fan and donor base. With the acquisition of Atkins Golf Club at the University of Illinois in the summer of 2020, Szymoniak led efforts to completely renovate and refurbish the golf course and the surrounding facilities. She managed all operations, including oversight of contractors and golf course management.
Szymoniak graduated from the University of Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and was a four-year letterwinner for the Bulldogs from 2002-06. Szymoniak completed her master’s degree in sport administration at Georgia State University in January of 2011.