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ICON to Become Preferred NIL Collective; Illini Guardians to Wind Down Operations

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.The Division of Intercollegiate Athletics (DIA) announced today that ICON Collective (ICON) will become the sole preferred third-party entity supporting Fighting Illini student-athletes in their name, image and likeness (NIL) endeavors. Illini Guardians, meanwhile, intends to wind down operations. ICON previously worked alongside Illini Guardians, as both groups facilitated community-focused NIL activities exclusively for Fighting Illini student-athletes.

“NIL support remains tremendously important to an enriching student-athlete experience and to our success as a program. We are grateful for the time and effort given by Illini Guardians during these first years of the NIL era. Their initiative at the outset was key to our emergence as an early leader on the NIL front. Now, DIA is excited to support ICON as it expands its breadth of operations and capabilities to further enhance opportunities for Illinois student-athletes in this space,” stated Director of Athletics Josh Whitman.

ICON is led by Kathleen Knight, President and CEO, and Jackie Szymoniak, Chief Operating Officer. Longtime affiliates of the university, both Knight and Szymoniak spent years working inside DIA in various capacities. The duo has operated ICON on a full-time basis since late 2022, working closely with key stakeholders to serve the interests of Fighting Illini student-athletes.

“As a former Illinois student-athlete, I am most excited about promoting positive experiences for young people and connecting them with our community to accelerate the university’s success,” said Knight, a four-year letterwinner as a member of the women’s swimming team. “I have spent the bulk of my professional career focused on building relationships within the Fighting Illini community, and I am confident that we are well-situated based on the strength and commitment of our people.”

Today, ICON launched a new membership program, “ICON for Illini,” to generate additional financial resources to support NIL opportunities for Illini student-athletes in exchange for donors having access to a unique set of benefits and experiences. Supporters will have the option to choose from six different giving levels, with benefits increasing in value and exclusivity commensurate with the amount of their engagement. Contributions made at the Red Grange level and above will be able to be directed to any one of the 21 varsity sports.

ICON Collective, the non-profit, pending 501(c)(3) entity, will continue operating to support its exclusive charitable and educational mission through partnerships with local community service organizations. ICON Collective and ICON for Illini will act as complements to one another, broadening the scope and scale of NIL opportunities available to Fighting Illini student-athletes.

Supporters are encouraged to visit to review the new membership structure and benefits and sign up for the level that best suits their interests. For anyone with questions about ICON Collective, ICON for Illini, or general NIL-related inquiries, please feel free to reach out to

Illini Guardians, the initial entity formed to facilitate NIL activity for Fighting Illini student-athletes, plans to wind down its operations in the near term. Emerging in response to the seismic legal and policy changes that created the NIL framework in 2021, Illini Guardians has successfully operated on a volunteer basis for nearly two years. During that time, the group worked with hundreds of Illinois student-athletes across all 21 varsity sports. Illini Guardians will end its subscription service and redirect its resources and support to ICON in furtherance of their shared mission.

“The most important aspects of this journey will continue,” said Adam Fleischer, Co-Founder of Illini Guardians. “We are Illinois alums, so our goal has always been to support the university however we can. This was an exciting, important endeavor for all of us, and we are happy for ICON to take the baton and continue moving forward.”


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