Miami grads gift $2 million to support RedHawk student-athletes

A married couple who met at Miami University gifted $2 million to their alma mater’s men’s basketball program to support RedHawk student-athletes during and after their college careers.

The donation came from Brian and Jennifer Niccol, who graduated from Miami in 1996 and 1997, respectively. Brian is the chairman and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill.

Through this gift, every player who meets Miami’s academic qualifications and remains eligible to play will receive up to $5,980 annually. Half of that will go to the players each year and the other half will go to them after they graduate.

Jennifer and Brian Niccol

A 2021 Supreme Court ruling allows universities to provide education-related, financial awards – known as Alston awards – of up to $5,985 per year, totaling roughly $24,000 during a four-year college career.

The couple believes this investment will help with Miami’s basketball recruiting efforts.

“We see what our kids are drawn to and their friends are drawn to it,” Jennifer said. “I think it would make the applications go up if Miami athletics had a greater presence on the national stage.” 

‘Believing in’ and ‘investing in’ people

The funds created the Niccol Family Basketball Award for Excellence in Academics and Athletics. It’s part of the Miami University Graduating Champions Academic Achievement Program. The school will administer the funds through its Office of Student Financial Assistance and Intercollegiate Athletics.

“This isn’t just on the court. It’s off the court, too,” said David Sayler, the university’s athletic director. 

“It’s preparation for life and preparation to tackle whatever career it is that they’re going to go into,” he continued. “Having this gift and allowing them to earn some dollars while they’re here as a student-athlete, it’s just a huge boost for them and a huge opportunity for us to give our student-athletes a chance to be successful.”

Some schools have earmarked funds in their budget for Alston awards. Sayler believes that Miami’s money will be more significant to recruits when they find out it is from alumni. 

“For the student-athlete, at the end of the day, it’s nice to know that there are people supporting you and believing in you and willing to invest in you,” he added.

It all started in Oxford, Ohio

The Niccols live in Newport Beach, Calif., with their two daughters and son. The family enjoys sports and loves cheering on the RedHawks athletics. Both Jennifer and Brian voiced support for men’s basketball coach Travis Steele. They described him as the type of leader who, with the right support, can produce a winning program with a national reputation.

“Continuity is the key to our team’s success,” said Steele, in his second year as head coach at Miami. 

“You look across this whole landscape of college athletics and what is happening with the transfer portal, and the question becomes how do you retain your guys,” he continued. “(The Niccols’ gift) is very big because the name of the game today is retention.”

Brian majored in engineering management. Jennifer earned her degree in English and secondary education. They met on a blind date after graduation while both were working in Cincinnati. Jennifer was a teacher at Summit Country Day School and the head of the drama department. Brian was a brand manager at Procter & Gamble.

“Part of the reason we give back is because I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for going to Miami and having a couple professors who pointed me in the direction of the career that I’m doing today,” Brian said of his time in Oxford.

They hope that boosting the men’s basketball program will add another point of attraction to student life at Miami.

“The campus is beautiful, and I think the student body is world class. The faculty is world class,” Brian said. “The thing that could make the total college experience even better is athletics. And I think, frankly, athletics is the thing, when you’re an alum, that brings you back, and keeps you connected.”

Miam University

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