Indiana University quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is cashing in before he goes under center for the team’s season opener Saturday at No. 18 Iowa.
Penix, two teammates and three other Hoosier athletes are using social media accounts to post a promo video for this weekend’s NHRA U.S. Nationals race at the suburban Indianapolis drag strip.
It’s the first time a motorsports league has paid prominent college players to help sell tickets, and it plans to add others from campuses near each of this year’s seven remaining events—thanks to new NCAA rules allowing athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses.
“We wanted a school in close proximity to the event and individuals with strong and engaged social followings who represent this community in a positive manner,” NHRA vice president of marketing and communications Jeffrey Young told The Associated Press. “We wanted to deliver the excitement of an NHRA event through a quick-hitting, attention-grabbing video.”
Contract terms were not disclosed.
Penix is in good company this weekend.
He joins All-American receiver Ty Fryfogle and long snapper Sean Wracher, basketball players Michael Durr and Anthony Leal and Olympic silver medalist-winning diver Andrew Capobianco in sharing an ad touting the power and speeds of dragsters.
While Durr, Leal and Capobianco have been invited to attend the series’ only Indy stop this season, Penix, Fryfogle and Wracher will be busy trying to help No. 17 Indiana protect its first preseason ranking since 1969.
A year ago, as racing reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic, Indy became the venue for drag races. Drivers held four consecutive events at Lucas Oil Raceway, just a few miles away from Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This September, 2020 Top Fuel runner-up Leah Pruitt senses a difference.
“I feel like this year, U.S. Nationals has a broader sense of prestige than it did last year because we haven’t raced here in a full year where last year we raced here two weekends before,” she said. “So this year, is really kind of the homecoming, I think, for U.S. Nationals where maybe we’ll call it the prom last year.”
Getting Penix on board is a win for the NHRA.
The Florida native helped revive Indiana’s football program, leading it to two straight bowl games despite suffering three straight season-ending injuries.
Coach Tom Allen said that despite balancing rehab, football, classwork and now branding, Penix has hardly been distracted by the endorsement.
“He’s doing more than he’s ever done in regards to every time we had a special teams period or a different type of period he was always with the training staff doing extra work,” Allen said Monday. “He’s right where we hoped he would be and he’s 100% ready to be the starter on Saturday.”
Indiana’s athletic department fully endorses the deals, too.
Senior associate athletic director for strategic communications Jeremy Gray said school officials do not negotiate or approve contracts, though athletes are to disclose deals within a 10-day window and are encouraged to seek legal advice so they understand contract language and implications.
“We’ve encouraged them to profit off of their names, images and likenesses,” Gray said. “Coaches are not involved, but I think our coaches would basically say do whatever you need to do as long as you don’t embarrass yourself or the program—and be at practice on time.”
NHRA met its newest promoters through Opendorse, a content delivery software service Indiana hired three years ago to help create quick, Internet-ready videos of everything from winning basketball shots to Allen’s postgame speeches.
When it appeared NIL changes were coming last year, the company introduced Opendorse Ready, a product that helps advertisers contact athletes directly. Indiana was the second school to sign up, after Nebraska.
Indiana’s athletes seem to be benefitting.
All-Big Ten basketball star Trayce Jackson-Davis is now promoting Indiana-based Merchants Bank. Several of his teammates, including Leal, are making money on endorsements and interview appearances. Two other football players, receiver Miles Marshall and All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen, are selling T-shirts,.
And now on college football’s first full weekend, Fryfogle, Wracher and Penix also will be cashing in—as they face the Hawkeyes.