In today’s college athletics landscape, no three letters have been more of a lightning rod over the past six months than NIL.
The impact of name, image and likeness has already been felt at FIU with current Panthers Tyrese Chambers and Rivaldo Fairweather having inked $40,000 deals via Miami businessman John Ruiz’ MSP Recovery Law Firm and LifeWallet.
The Sunshine State as whole is expected to be a prime destination for athletes looking to capitalize on the momentum of NIL legislation — with South Florida being especially ripe with opportunities.
Former Panther and eight-year NFL standout Johnathan Cyprien is looking to lead the way in helping FIU have a foundation to compete in the NIL playing field, launching “Inside The Cage” — a name, image and likeness collective that allows for the public to donate towards NIL funds for Panther athletes.
“This is something that can allow us to support student athletes at FIU and can turn our whole university into the right direction, with sports, it brings everybody together,” said Cyprien. “The better we’re able to support our student athletes, the more able those athletes are able to take care of themselves and their families.”
Inside The Cage provides 12 membership tiers, ranging from $25 per month to $10,000 yearly. In return for a membership, the collective offers benefits aligned with one’s chosen tier, ranging from personalized videos from a student-athlete to the ability to attend practices across FIU Sports.
“It’s a membership program and once you decide how you would like to contribute, you’ll have exclusive access,” said Cyprien. “You login into the site and you’re able to see exclusive interviews, or ultimately even be able to access NFTs. There’s going to be a lot of exclusive things that you’re going to be provided to becoming a member.”
The crux of Inside The Cage — and FIU’s athletic ceiling is banking on the university’s large alumni base in South Florida — a factor that Athletic Director Scott Carr has been emphatic about since the day of his hire in December of last year.
“NIL is an area that we can be strong in and a large part of that is the City of Miami and the size of our alumni base within Miami and South Florida,” said Carr. “This is a great place to build your brand and the number of businesses and affiliations in this area, we want to be active in the NIL space and help our student athletes as much as we can.”
After four seasons as a Panther from 2009-2012, Cyprien was a second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013 and is still the highest-selected player from FIU in program history. As he was wrapping up his career in 2020, Cyprien notes that seeing what other programs across the country were doing in the NIL space spurred him to do the same at his alma mater.
“So this all came about with NIL being all over the media and actually it came up in a meeting I had with FIU,” said Cyprien. “Shortly after that, I found myself in Ohio on business and I went to an Ohio State game. I looked around and said why can’t this be FIU one day. From there I got on the phone with a couple people and through those efforts we launched Inside The Cage.”
The deals for Chambers and Fairweather are among the highest deals publicly announced for an athlete in Conference USA, tying with Southern Miss’ Frank Gore Jr., who also received a $40,000 through MSP and LifeWallet.
All The Glory To God ‼️ pic.twitter.com/FEQm3SK3ok— Rivaldo Fairweather (@rivaldo_f13) January 24, 2022
In addition to Cyprien, former Panther Shawn O’Gorman is also working with in the NIL space, currently serving as Director of Name, Image and Likeness for First Round Management, the South Florida-based agency headed by noted agent, Malki Kawa.
“There’s a lot of opportunity right now for athletes throughout college sports, but obviously being a former Panther, I’m passionate about being able to help FIU,” said O’Gorman, who appeared in nine contests from 2016-2018. “Being a former player, especially recently, I feel that I can relate to these guys in the fact that I’ve been in their shoes and know the ups and downs of being a college athlete, so I’m really eager to give back.”
O’Gorman helped facilitate the NIL deal for Fairweather as a part of First Round Management.
“Rivaldo has all of the tools to be an impact player and it was an incredible opportunity for him to get this deal,” said O’Gorman.
For Fairweather, a Broward County product who found football late in high school and wasn’t hotly recruited until late in his senior season, the opportunity to be able to provide for his family is one that he couldn’t have imagined coming this early.
“It’s huge to be able to help my mom out, it’s just such a blessing for everything that the people who have helped me get to this point, to be able to help them out means everything,” said Fairweather.
Moving forward, Cyprien wants to use his experiences as a former player and now current businessperson to help FIU student-athletes understand the full scope of what NIL can be — and how that can be accomplished through the Inside The Cage collective.
“Having something like this when I played of course would have helped in terms of money, but I also want to emphasize the importance of creating business relationships while you’re still in college,” said Cyprien. “I want to know what the athletes are majoring in, so we can help create connections and get them set up for life after sports, whenever that may be for them.”