NORMAN — Oklahoma has drawn rave reviews in recent years for its ability to uniquely promote and elevate the brand of its student-athletes. Some of the most visible athletes on the national scene, people like Kyler Murray, Blake Griffin, Maggie Nichols, Baker Mayfield and Sydney Romero, saw their meteoric rise begin in Norman.
Now, OU is prepared to put those powerful resources behind the new opportunities that await student-athletes in anticipation of potential new NCAA legislation that pertains to name, image and likeness. A vote on that measure is expected in January and implementation could begin in August of 2021.
If passed, new doors will open, and Sooner student-athletes will stand on the accomplishments already achieved in the athletics department while also being positioned by a ground-breaking program that promises to take those student-athletes to new heights.
The new program is branded "The Foundry" because of its focus on casting individuals into a strong brand forged to stand the test of time. Interestingly, it also will have a unique personal element.
"Educating and preparing our student-athletes so they can maximize their NIL value is important to us, like it is to every school, but it can't be 'one size fits all,'" said OU Vice President and Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione. "We are gaining greater understanding of this new era as it continues to evolve. However, we want to set our program apart by understanding our students' success begins at the core of self-awareness, meaning a better understanding of one's own talents and gifts as well as the ways to properly accentuate them. This will not only help them understand creative and substantive ways they can engage in the marketplace but also the business of legal aspects in maximizing opportunities to build their own personal brand."
Toward that end, OU is expanding its relationship with Culture Wins, a leader in working with organizations in the sports industry to build high-performing leaders and teams. Working with the some of the top teams in sports, Culture Wins provides in-person and online, on-demand content to unlock the potential of leaders. With both static content and live-streaming capabilities, it provides a customizable solution that puts content on NIL, communication, self-awareness, personal branding, mental health, financial planning, entrepreneurship and leadership into the hands of student-athletes, coaches and administrators. Culture Wins is the sports division of global leadership development firm GiANT, whose online platform is utilized by organizations like Google, Pfizer and the U.S. Air Force.
With the personal approach at its core, the step-by-step program will rapidly expand into various business facets that will be essential for student-athletes looking to excel in their new opportunities. Those areas will include personal brand growth, entrepreneurship, finance and tax management and much more.
"We have amazing access to incredible leaders in many areas including CEOs and business leaders of some of our nation's most recognized companies," Castiglione said. "Those kinds of connections will bring experts to the table in laying out the cutting-edge practices that lead to success. A championship brand like the one at OU not only produces great leaders, but it is also a magnet to others who want to be aligned with sustainable success. We're going to get those leaders connected to our student-athletes to teach them the key elements to achieving at the highest levels."
Castiglione added that as the training platforms open and expand, student-athletes and coaches will assist in the development of programming so it can be tailored specifically for those who will use it most.
Oklahoma's coaches anticipate a lot of interest in the program and believe it will be even stronger based on the foundation that has already been built.
"We understood early on how the game had changed in terms of maximizing exposure and staying on the cutting edge of branding and technology," said Lincoln Riley, head football coach. "It has been a priority for us for a few years and we've committed resources and gotten results that have drawn a lot of national attention to our program and our players.
"Now, we anticipate that we're going to be able to help our players achieve their visibility in new ways, and we'll continue to think ahead and commit the resources to get it done at the highest level. The proof is here at OU. We can point to individuals who maximized their talent here and then saw their brand skyrocket. And while it's been great in football, it's not just in football. We have household names in a lot of sports. You can feel the momentum here and we're excited about this next chapter."
Head softball coach Patty Gasso agreed and said that Oklahoma's student-athletes get something of a head start.
"All you have to do is watch our program for a short period of time and you can see how these athletes are recognized from coast to coast," said Gasso. "It really doesn't matter where we play, they're very well known. The level of their play combined with the power of the OU brand makes for a very special opportunity and experience at Oklahoma, and it doesn't end when our players leave here. It builds to a high level here, but then they carry that for many more years and remain among the highest-profile figures in our sport. I see that in other sports, too. The overwhelming success at OU in so many sports has created a platform that is very unique."
It's not just those in the OU Athletics Department who see the brand strength at Oklahoma, it's also industry leaders such as Cole Gahagan, president and CEO of Learfield IMG College.
"As the leading collegiate sports media and technology company, we have the good fortune of working with the largest brands in college athletics, and there is no question that OU is among the very elite," said Gahagan. "Each year, the OU athletics program distinguishes itself as a premier, national brand in all of our commercial activities on their behalf, from traditional media, to digital properties, to licensing. Most assuredly, 'Boomer Sooner' is a familiar and echoed rally cry by millions of fans across the country."
Further evidence of the OU brand strength is the fact that the school is one of only five Jordan Brand programs nationally and the only one in the Big 12.
OU officials will spend the coming weeks monitoring the emerging legislation as they work to further hone the NIL program.