UC unveils plan as Ohio inches closer to allowing college athletes to profit off likeness

Keith Jenkins
Cincinnati Enquirer

As Ohio inches closer to being the next state to allow all college athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness, the University of Cincinnati has proactively offered its plan.

The UC athletic department on Wednesday announced the launch of IMPACT, a comprehensive student-athlete development program designed to prepare the university's student-athletes to positively influence their brands and platforms.

Under IMPACT, with the help of Opendorse Ready, a name, image and likeness readiness program, UC will work with Empower, a national creative media agency with headquarters in Cincinnati, to offer group educational sessions on personal-brand coaching and brand building to student-athletes.

“It’s an exciting day for us to launch IMPACT in conjunction with our new partners, Opendorse and Empower,” UC Director of Athletics John Cunningham said. “As a department, we’ve been fully supportive of the rights of our student-athletes to capitalize on their Name, Image and Likeness. This comprehensive program will allow us to put the needed education, safeguards and guardrails in place to allow our student-athletes to maximize their NIL rights.”

Wes Miller, left, is formally introduced as the new head men's basketball coach by University of Cincinnati Director of Athletics John Cunningham, Friday, April 16, 2021, at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati. Miller comes to UC from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he was the longest-tenured coach in the Southern Conference and winningest coach in UNCG history. He led UNCG to the NCAA Tournament twice over a 10-year span.

UC joins schools from the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 to sign on to use the Opendorse Ready platform.

Specific programs and topics offered through Opendorse include athlete perspective, business and financial literacy, content creation, endorsements, entrepreneurship, opportunity management, social media, personal branding and more.

“We are excited to launch the IMPACT program and make it a benefit to our players and football program," UC football coach Luke Fickell said. "As a team, we want to be the best at whatever we do and this is no different. We appreciate the administration putting together a cutting-edge solution which will educate our student-athletes and allow them to put their best foot forward in this new age of Name, Image and Likeness.”

Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell watches from the sideline in the third quarter of the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. A last-minute field goal sealed a 24-21 win for the Bulldogs, leaving the Bearcats 9-1 on the season.

Opendorse Ready provides student-athletes the opportunity to understand their NIL rights and receive hands-on assistance from experts to maximize their value while on campus, UC said. The program offers three core pillars to student-athlete success: Assessment, Education, and Performance – tailored to assist each individual athlete, according to the university.

“It’s great to see something we have spent a lot of time talking about become a reality," Cincinnati basketball coach Wes Miller said. "A new era is starting in college athletics and it’s a great feeling to be at the head of the class with IMPACT. We have a responsibility to prepare our players for life after the University of Cincinnati and we appreciate the efforts the University and our department are putting towards this goal.”

Opendorse on Thursday announced a deal with Twitter that will give college athletes the opportunity to start earning money from content they create and tweet.

Under a new bill introduced by state lawmakers last month, college athletes could make money off the use of their name, image and likeness, enter contracts and hire representation.  

More:Could Ohio be the next state to legalize college athletes profiting from name, image and likeness?

However, there would be some limitations: Athletes would need to inform their universities 15 days before entering into a contract and could not endorse marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, adult entertainment or casinos.

Universities would police their own athletes without statewide oversight. 

The changes would take effect on July 1 if approved by the Ohio Legislature. But there's a tight window for state lawmakers to do so while working to finish a two-year state budget.  

The bill still needs approval from Ohio lawmakers and Gov. Mike DeWine.

"We will get this done. We will get this done to the benefit of the student-athletes in Ohio," state Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, said at a news conference last month.

The NCAA is hoping to have new rules in place by the end of June to govern all Division I athletes and NIL compensation from third parties.

Ohio has lagged behind other states when it comes to name, image and likeness legislation. To date, 16 states have enacted laws that allow college students to make money through advertisements, sponsorship deals and other promotions based on their sports success and popularity. Five of those laws – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico – take effect July 1.