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Moments after NCAA adopts interim NIL policy, Washington State launches ‘Cougar Pursuit’ program

Patrick Chun, left, WSU’s new athletic director, smiles with university president Kirk Schulz, center, and Phil Weiler vice president of marketing and communication, right, during an introductory press conference for Chun on Tuesday, January 23, 2018, in the Rankich Club Room at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Shortly after the NCAA revealed a policy that gives student-athletes the opportunity to capitalize on name, image and likeness starting on Thursday, Washington State’s athletic department revealed a comprehensive program that will assist Cougar athletes with NIL.

The program, named “The Cougar Pursuit,” will be a collaborative effort between WSU Athletics and the WSU Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and INFLCR software company, and will provide educational opportunities for Cougar athletes hoping to make money from their name, image and likeness.

WSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship, a branch of the Carson College of Business, will sponsor a five-week educational course for student-athletes looking to learn more about NIL. The course, according to WSU’s release, will cover topics like intellectual property, personal branding and marketing in a digital world, finance and contracting, and life after sports during the Summer Advantage session. The course will conclude with a personal elevator pitch.

“We believe our Cougar Pursuit initiative is one of the most important resources we can offer our student-athletes during their WSU experience, that will ultimately impact them for years to come,” WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun said. “The Cougar Pursuit now includes campus partnerships, technology and education to allow our student-athletes to maximize their name, image and likeness.

“We are excited about the new opportunities available for our WSU student-athletes and remain steadfast in our commitment to offer the most unique and impactful student-athlete experience in the nation.”

Multiple WSU athletes, including preseason All-American Max Borghi, teased “The Cougar Pursuit” program on Tuesday in social media posts inviting companies to contact them regarding NIL opportunities. Eight former and current WSU athletes from a variety of programs were quoted at the bottom of the school’s release about the opportunity to explore opportunities with their name, image and likeness.

“I think Name, Image and Likeness will help me reach my goals by providing a new outlet to my full potential and opening opportunities that many people before me did not have,” said Noah Williams, a junior guard on the WSU men’s basketball team. “This is the future.”

WSU’s partnership with INFLCR, a company that serves more than 9,500 student-athletes, representatives from every major NCAA conference and seven other Pac-12 institutions, will help Cougar athletes obtain content and analytical date to help them create and boost their personal brands.

“Through INFLCR’s compliance exchange, student-athletes will be able to connect to the best marketplaces where they can sign up to monetize on their NIL,” founder Jim Cavale said in WSU’s release. “The best part is that we are going to keep WSU student-athletes safe. Through INFLCR Verified, WSU’s compliance department can oversee all NIL transactions to ensure that NIL regulations are being followed.”

The company handpicked six WSU athletes to participate in the “Cougar Pursuit” expansion on Tuesday: Borghi and Ron Stone Jr. of the football team, Michaela Jones of the women’s basketball team, Elyse Bennett of the soccer team, Cameron Merch of the women’s golf team and Julianna Dalton of the volleyball team. After releasing personalized graphics, the six athletes saw a combined increase of 1,107 social media followers and had a combined 5,725 interactions (likes, shares, retweets) by the time WSU officially launched its NIL program.

Other schools in the state and region have debuted similar programs anticipating more NIL movement this week. On June 22, Gonzaga announced the creation of its “Next Level” program, which will target “personal brand management, financial literacy, business and entrepreneurship, social media, and NIL legislation.” GU is also partnering with INFLCR to help empower athletes to take advantage of NIL opportunities.

In February, the University of Washington pulled back the curtains on its own NIL program, “Boundless Futures,” which was described by the school as “a comprehensive personal, professional and leadership development program.” UW’s program will include educational courses through the Foster School of Business, along with a partnership with brand-building platform Opendorse, according to The Seattle Times.