Bearcats mailbag: Big 12 in Nippert Stadium, basketball roster moves, apparel timelines (2024)

CINCINNATI — It has been a while since we’ve done a Cincinnati mailbag, and you all responded with so many good questions that we decided to break it into two parts. Here is the second installment.

Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.

With Oklahoma traveling to Cincinnati this fall, I was wondering how much UC makes on home games at Nippert Stadium compared to hosting at Paycor Stadium. Would the extra capacity at Paycor be worth it financially? Or are the benefits of hosting on campus more important? — Mark S.

There are two angles to this. One is a more intangible perspective, that last thing Mark mentioned. A big reason for the Nippert renovation in 2014 and other various investments in the football program and facilities were geared toward the hope and ambition of getting back to a power conference and regularly hosting big-name programs at Nippert. Joining the Big 12 — and the success that preceded it — is a dream realized for the Bearcats, and with that comes the marquee on-campus matchups fans have been pining for.


Nippert will be the smallest of the Big 12 stadiums, and a sold-out Paycor would offer a significant bump in allotment. But any potential increase in ticket sales isn’t enough for Cincinnati to even consider hosting at Paycor. The university doesn’t collect anything from parking or concessions at Paycor, and there are numerous other logistical challenges, including having to make gameday and other in-stadium advertisers whole for the lost exposure of being away from Nippert. It also would disrupt the usual tailgating or pregame experience for fans and season-ticket holders.

In the past, games at Paycor either have been a wash or lost money for the Bearcats. Cincinnati could attempt to offset that difference by jacking up ticket prices for Paycor games, but then you run the risk of pricing out (and angering) diehard fans, and it also gives more opportunities for opposing fans to buy additional seats.

Barring something unforeseen, I don’t expect UC to play any conference games at Paycor any time soon. And that’s a good thing for the Bearcats.

Any chatter about men’s basketball seniors using their bonus year of eligibility to return next season? — Travis H.

What current players have no remaining eligibility after this season? — Robert P.

We got a bunch of men’s basketball roster questions in this batch, so let’s break it all down. David DeJulius, Kalu Ezikpe and Rob Phinisee will be out of eligibility after this season, so those three definitely are gone. (Conveniently, 2023 signees Rayvon Griffith, ji*zzle James and DaVeon Thomas will fill those vacant scholarship spots.) John Newman III could be in that same category, but if he doesn’t return from injury this season, he’ll be eligible to apply for a medical redshirt and could return for a sixth year. Landers Nolley II, Jeremiah Davenport and Mika Adams-Woods still have their bonus year of eligibility available.


It’s no secret nor surprise that UC would love to get Nolley back, and there’s a good chance it happens. Someone else asked if NIL will play a role in his decision: yes. It factored into his decision to come to Cincinnati in the first place, and if similar opportunities can get squared away for next season, that will be critical. But Nolley also has made it clear he loves the city and the university and playing for Wes Miller, so all of those things will be a positive factor in Nolley’s decision.

Newman’s choice, if he doesn’t return at any point this season, largely will come down to whether he wants to come back for a sixth year. That’s a long time in college basketball and can be a tough thing to reckon with after entering this season with the mentality that it would be his last. But the injury obviously derailed his plans, and I’m sure Miller and company would love to have a veteran defender of his quality in the Big 12. I could see Newman ultimately deciding for one last go-round, but I don’t believe he has made a final decision, about this year or next.

Davenport and Adams-Woods will be interesting cases, and a return by either will depend on things such as their willingness to embrace a different role next season (if they want to play another year) and Cincinnati’s overall roster needs. I lean toward each of them playing college basketball somewhere next year, but for the time being, I’d label both as toss-ups in terms of coming back to UC.

What’s the scoop on Jarrett Hensley not playing the last several games? — April J.

What is the staff’s plan for Sage Tolentino? Is there any insight on Josh Reed’s limited minutes against Tulsa? — William H.

Similar to Ezikpe earlier in the season, Hensley simply has fallen out of the rotation. Anyone around the program will tell you that Hensley is a great young man who works his tail off, so it’s nothing disciplinary-related. He has coveted size and athleticism, but he struggled defensively and on the boards in nonconference play, two areas where the Bearcats were already lacking this season. There’s also the fact that, in this new transfer-portal landscape, it’s wise for some minutes to go to freshmen such as Reed and Daniel Skillings Jr., especially when both have shown promise and productivity on the floor. I’m not aware of any injury issues or concerns with Henlsey, and I wouldn’t think there would be any chance at a medical redshirt considering he has played in 15 games. But there are only so many minutes to go around.

The same could be said for Reed’s dip in playing time of late. At this point in the season, rotations shrink. Saturday’s win over UCF was a good example: In a tight game, Miller basically used eight players, including seven minutes for Skillings. (Ezikpe also got in for a few seconds at the end of the first half to make sure Viktor Lakhin didn’t pick up a silly foul.) That’s an encouraging adjustment by Miller, who drew some criticism last season for having such a large rotation and being too rigid with his substitution patterns. This year, Miller seems to have locked in on the eight players he’s going to lean on down the stretch (if Newman doesn’t return), and save for foul trouble, specific matchup issues or the occasional blowout, I suspect the distribution of minutes will look similar the rest of the way.

As far as Tolentino, it is curious that Cincinnati seemingly would burn a redshirt opportunity for just eight total minutes in two games in nonconference play. But the freshman 7-footer was a developmental piece this season, and he has been banged up with various injuries at different times, so I’ll reserve judgment on that.

Any updates on a new apparel sponsorship? — Matt L.

Nope. As I wrote last summer, Cincinnati can get out of its restructured product-supply agreement with Under Armour as soon as July 1 of this year, which would align perfectly with the Bearcats officially joining the Big 12. But while UC has incentive to coordinate a new apparel deal as it enters a new conference, the apparel brands don’t have the same motivation to work off that timeline. Cincinnati has had at least some level of discussion with Nike and Jordan brand about an apparel contract, but these things take time, and the Bearcats are at the behest of the apparel companies and their schedules.

For now, Cincinnati remains an Under Armour school — the current product-supply agreement runs through June 30, 2024 — and at this point in the calendar, it’s safe to assume the Bearcats will be wearing UA gear for their inaugural season in the Big 12.

Will any of the departing football players in the transfer portal return to UC now that things have stabilized with the new staff? — Ross B.

I don’t see it happening. There were certainly a few players who entered the portal the Bearcats wanted (and attempted) to bring back, but all of them have since committed. For any who are still on the market, there is probably a reason for that.

Will Oscar Robertson and UC ever reconcile whatever differences have kept him away from the university in recent years? — Brent L.

I’m not sure what the future holds on that front, but it won’t be for lack of trying on Cincinnati’s part. The university would love to have Robertson around or involved in whatever capacity he’s comfortable, Miller in particular in regard to the basketball program. I know there is an ongoing effort on UC’s part to continue reaching out and doing what it can to mend any previously neglected fences.

In Robertson’s defense, he is an all-time great and iconic player who suffered any number of unspeakable wrongs and inconveniences during his career, at Cincinnati and beyond, for no reason other than the color of his skin. Even if those in charge at Cincinnati today played no part in any of that, Robertson has earned the right to be aggrieved in general. Plus he’s at the point in life when he might just prefer to be left alone, which is also reasonable. But hopefully, the two sides can come to some form of resolution sooner rather than later. I know it would mean a lot to the university and Bearcats basketball fans.

GO DEEPERCincinnati mailbag: What can Bearcats fans expect from basketball, football?

Why doesn’t Travis Kelce say he went to college at Cincinnati when the NFL shows player intros for primetime games? — Thomas H.

This is misplaced disappointment. Travis (and Jason) Kelce have been consistent supporters of the program despite multiple coaching changes since their time at UC. Travis was at the Hall of Fame Classic men’s basketball game in Kansas City in November 2021 and the Bearcats’ College Football Playoff matchup in Dallas a month later. Both Kelce brothers have been back on campus for multiple games and events, including the football program’s annual alumni golf outing.


Travis was rocking some sick Bearcats throwback gear in a recent podcast appearance, and he launched a health-and-wellness endowment for UC student-athletes in accordance with his Eighty-Seven & Running Foundation this past November. He’s even busted out the “U-C” celebration during multiple NFL games. Regardless of what he shouts out during the player intros, Travis has been a great ambassador for his alma mater.

Has the athletic department considered expanding the student section at Nippert? As a recent grad, I can’t emphasize enough how difficult it was to get tickets the past couple of years, and I assume that won’t change with the move to the Big 12. — Joe V.

It’s not just students — general season tickets are on a waitlist as well. It’s a good problem to have for the Bearcats, who labored for so long to fill Nippert Stadium. Now that the program is doing that on a consistent basis, it brings new challenges. Cincinnati did move some student overflow to sections in the upper deck in 2022, but that hardly solves the issue you’re getting at.

One solution I’m sure the department has considered is moving the marching band, possibly by putting it on risers in the end-zone notches. The university always could re-fill those notches with permanent seating as well, although that’s a more involved process. My guess is the Bearcats will enjoy the challenges of a sold-out stadium and Big 12 opponents in 2023 while weighing some potential options and experiments for the future.

Outside of winning the AAC tournament, does men’s basketball have a shot at making the NCAA Tournament? — Zandra

Doubtful. Any talk of at-large bids likely would require the Bearcats to run the table and go 7-0 the rest of the regular season, and even then, it wouldn’t be a guarantee. That’s also expecting a lot from a program that hasn’t won more than five conference games in a row since Mick Cronin was on the sideline. Still, the team is playing well, and it can keep those Pollyanna postseason hopes alive with a big Quadrant 2 win tonight at Tulane.

(Top photo: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

Bearcats mailbag: Big 12 in Nippert Stadium, basketball roster moves, apparel timelines (3)Bearcats mailbag: Big 12 in Nippert Stadium, basketball roster moves, apparel timelines (4)

Justin Williams covers college football and basketball for The Athletic. He was previously a beat reporter covering the Cincinnati Bearcats, and prior to that he worked as a senior editor for Cincinnati Magazine. Follow Justin on Twitter/X @williams_justin Follow Justin on Twitter @williams_justin

Bearcats mailbag: Big 12 in Nippert Stadium, basketball roster moves, apparel timelines (2024)
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