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The potential value of NIL collective Cincy Reigns amid a coaching search

On3 imageby:Andy Wittry11/30/22


The Cincinnati-focused NIL collective Cincy Reigns launched last Monday. On Black Friday, the Bearcats hosted the Tulane Green Wave for the right the host the American Athletic Conference Championship Game. Two days later, Wisconsin announced it hired former Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell.

The seven-day stretch likely felt like a whirlwind for many Cincinnati players, athletic department staffers and fans.

The launch of Cincy Reigns — the first collective designed to support NIL opportunities for Cincinnati athletes — could prove to be fortuitous timing, given Fickell’s departure and the official opening of the Transfer Portal window on Dec. 5.

“I think it makes it an attractive place for a coach who understands where the future of the college game’s going,” Cincy Reigns Chair Brian Fox said in a phone interview. “… I think you can’t zoom out and look at the college football landscape and not think that NIL not only figures in, but teams and programs that are savvy about it, are forward-thinking about it, would seem to be in a better position to thrive.

“If you’re a coaching candidate, right now especially, I don’t know how you could want to go somewhere where you don’t see the kind of excitement and enthusiasm that an athletic director like John Cunningham is out there clearly demonstrating and modeling.”

A spokesperson said Cunningham is unavailable for comment during the search.

The existence of one or more collectives that support the NIL opportunities for a school’s players could be a factor for coaching candidates who are weighing potential job offers.

“When you can sign good players because you can pay them through NIL, you have a chance to be a whole lot better coach,” a former head coach who works as a Power 5 assistant previously told On3’s Jeremy Crabtree.

Transfers, decommits since Luke Fickell’s departure

During Tulane’s 27-24 win over Cincinnati at Nippert Stadium last Friday, Cincinnati promoted Cincy Reigns on the scoreboard during stoppages in play during the first and third quarters. The P.A. announcer stressed the importance of Cincy Reigns regarding the recruiting and retention of top talent at Cincinnati.

While the Transfer Portal doesn’t officially open until Monday, Dec. 5, multiple Cincinnati players have already entered the Transfer Portal this week. Former four-star cornerback recruit J.Q. Hardaway followed former three-star wide receiver recruit Jojo Bermudez in entering the portal.

There’s an exception that allows for undergraduate athletes to enter the Transfer Portal outside of one of the established windows if they experience a head coaching change.

Three-star safety recruit Amare Snowden, wide receiver Ayden Greene, tight end Khamari Anderson and cornerback Jonas Duclona have also decommitted from Cincinnati since Fickell’s departure.

Players transferring or decommitting are common after a coaching change.

‘Who’s leading the program…is certainly the most important’

Stakeholders in the college football landscape are preparing for the sport’s version of free agency, thanks to the convergence of the one-time transfer exception and the NCAA’s NIL era.

The presence of a collective at a school, especially where there wasn’t one previously, could prove to be a necessity in the current era of college athletics.

A collective could make the potential fit at a school more appealing to both coaches and athletes.

The creation and operation of one collective, let alone multiple, could help attract better coaching candidates. The right coaching candidate, plus one or more collectives, could then help in recruiting.

Coaching candidates will have to evaluate how such a new collective in Cincy Reigns could impact the NIL opportunities for Cincinnati players, which could impact the next coach’s roster.

“Does NIL matter? Of course. But coach is king,” Fox said. “As recruits are making this decision, who’s leading the program and whether you want to play for them is certainly the most important consideration, I would think, a student-athlete is considering. You know, a vibrant NIL ecosystem within that university’s culture, I think that helps. That’s a really big data point in the numerous data points that recruits are considering.

“I think at some schools, it’s probably bigger than others… there’s 20 reasons that somebody makes a decision and that’s why good coaches are so careful about the recruiting process. There’s almost a sales cycle to it, where they try to make sure that throughout the entire sales cycle, there’s adequate attraction points, from the on-campus visit, academic support, the geographic location and all those things. NIL is certainly a trendy topic so it’s now a bigger data point and so at the University of Cincinnati, we’re just trying to stand something up in the form of our collective that makes our data point far more attractive than other collectives across the country.”

Fickell’s departure ‘highlighted the need for the collective’

Fox said he has been using the phrase “charitable, compliant conduit” to describe Cincy Reigns when describing the collective to potential donors. Describing its launch last week, Fox said, “We wanted to reach the four corners of Bearcat Twitter,” and he said the early response has been “better than I thought.”

Given Cincinnati’s position in the FBS landscape, as a program that made the College Football Playoff last season and will join the Big 12 Conference before the next one, the timing of the launch of Cincy Reigns is notable. The launch was prior to the university’s last home football game as a member of the American Athletic Conference, which was unknowingly Fickell’s last game, too.

“Giving Tuesday…we didn’t really launch with that in mind but that has been a happy accident, I guess, and we obviously didn’t launch it to correspond in timing with Luke’s departure,” Fox said, chuckling. “But obviously that has highlighted the need for the collective at the University of Cincinnati.”