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Alumni Success

New fund for men’s basketball provides financial support for student-athletes

$2 million gift focuses on success on and off the basketball court

Jennifer and Brian Niccol
Alumni Success

New fund for men’s basketball provides financial support for student-athletes

Miami University head men’s basketball coach Travis Steele is strengthening both the team’s recruitment and retention efforts, thanks to a $2 million alumni gift. 

“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. This is very big because the name of the game today is retention.” 

Named in honor of donors Brian ’96 and Jennifer Niccol ’97, the Niccol Family Basketball Award for Excellence in Academics and Athletics is now part of the Miami University Graduating Champions Academic Achievement Program. Through this gift, every player who meets the academic qualifications spelled out by Miami and remains eligible to play will receive up to $5,980 annually. 

Half of that will go to the players each year who are deemed eligible with the other half going into a separate fund and awarded to the student-athletes after they graduate, explained Director of Athletics David Sayler. 

“This isn’t just on the court. It’s off the court, too,” Sayler said. “It’s preparation for life and preparation to tackle whatever career it is that they’re going to go into. 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.” 

The Supreme Court ruling Alston v NCAA 2021 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. 

Miami will administer these funds through its Office of Student Financial Assistance and Intercollegiate Athletics. 

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. “It means more to recruits when we can tell them that alums stepped up and did this for them, and not just for them, but for everybody who’s ever going to play here.” 

The Niccols, who live in Newport Beach, California, with their two daughters and son, love sports and appreciate being able to cheer on their alma mater. Brian, who is Chairman and CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill, 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 as a teacher at Summit Country Day School as the head of the drama department and Brian as a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. 

Both of them spent their time at Miami discovering areas outside of their majors that they were passionate about. Brian took a Marketing course and loved it, and Jennifer got involved in Dance Theatre. 

“I personally had a great experience at Miami, made great friends, had great professors,” Brian said. “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.” 

The Niccols would like more students to enjoy that Miami experience. 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.” 

Big sports fans who follow Miami in the MAC and love to watch Miami on TV since they live so far away, the Niccols have basketball on their radar because their son, a junior in high school, is a huge basketball player. Plus, when their oldest daughter, who’s now a college freshman, started looking at schools, they realized how significant sports are, and not only to the student-athletes. 

“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.” 

Both Jennifer and Brian think Steele is the right leader who, with the right support, can produce a consistently winning program with a national reputation. 

Appreciative of their support, Sayler said, “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.” 

For more information on how you can invest in Miami Basketball and Miami Athletics, please contact Brad Okel at or 513-529-0031.