Louisville's interim AD Josh Heird plans new department devoted to getting athletes paid

·4 min read

Determined to make the University of Louisville a more attractive destination for top talent, interim athletic director Josh Heird is planning a standalone Name, Image and Likeness department committed to putting more cash in the pockets of college athletes.

“We have to create a conduit that better connects our student-athletes to our community,” Heird told the university’s athletic association board Friday. “...We have to show student-athletes we can maximize their earning potential during their time at Louisville.”

Formerly forbidden by NCAA rules, laws making third-party payments have created a new recruiting battleground, moving what had been a brisk but black market out into the open. College athletes once prevented from capitalizing on their competitive success or popularity can now sign endorsement deals relatively free of the restrictions that existed as recently as last June, and universities have responded by ramping up their resources in this quickly evolving space.

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U of L previously contracted with Nebraska-based Opendorse to assist athletes in social media brand-building through a program known as Elevate. Heird’s hope is to build on that base, to develop opportunities in one of the larger U.S. markets in which college sports are the biggest deal.

Beyond standard endorsements – some of which have already enriched U of L quarterback Malik Cunningham and others – Heird is interested in unlocking the potential value of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).

“The No. 1 priority for us is we have to put ourselves in the best position possible to attract the best talent,” he said. “A lot of that is going to hinge on what we do as we move forward with Name, Image and Likeness ... We need to stay at the forefront.

“I think it’s our job to try to create as many of those opportunities as possible for all of our student-athletes.”

Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith (10) pulls down a rebound against Georgia Tech Avyonce Carter (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Louisville guard Hailey Van Lith (10) pulls down a rebound against Georgia Tech Avyonce Carter (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

To that end, Heird said he was in contact with Adidas representatives Thursday about creating personalized jerseys. (U of L women's basketball star Hailey Van Lith has already tapped into this market with a line of T-shirts and jerseys.)

“Quite frankly, we wish they could have rolled this program out a little bit sooner so our student athletes could take advantage of it,” Heird said. “(But) Just like us, (Adidas) is going to make sure they do it the right way.”

Associate athletic director Matt Banker has already added NIL responsibilities to his job title. Heird said he expects to devote two other staff positions to the initiative and intends to launch by the July 1 start of the 2022-23 fiscal year, ideally within 60 days.

Still officially an “interim” AD, Heird should last at least long enough to implement this and other ideas. Though interim president Lori Gonzalez said Friday the hiring of a permanent athletic director may precede the completion of a presidential search that could last up to 18 months, the administration has yet to appoint a search committee or to act with any apparent urgency.

According to Board of Trustees chair Mary Nixon, the next step toward identifying a permanent AD will be for U of L to issue a request for proposals for potential search firms. Before Vince Tyra’s interim status was made permanent in 2018, U of L hired Korn Ferry to screen candidates at a cost of $150,000, plus expenses.

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Former U of L trustee Jonathan Blue says the school could save itself some time with a single call to Glenn Sugiyama, managing partner of DHR Global Executive Search.

Among Sugiyama’s credits is helping Purdue with the process that resulted in the hiring of Jeff Brohm as the Boilermakers’ football coach in 2016. More recently, he served as Florida State’s point man in its search for an athletic director, a search that involved extensive talks with Tyra before the hiring of Seminole Boosters CEO Michael Alford.

“He’s the best in the business, hands down, and you can quote me on that,” Blue said. “The university should pick up the phone and call Glenn Sugiyama right now and engage him.

“Josh (Heird) should be a candidate. This should not preclude him in any way. But they should do a real search instead of some inside job.”

Tim Sullivan: 502-582-4650, tsullivan@courier-journal.com; Twitter: @TimSullivan714

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville athletics to make standalone NIL department to help recruit

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