As we learned (again) last week as Michael Avenatti’s lawyers filed briefs detailing Nike’s authorization to pay Zion Williamson $35,000 or more and $20,000 to Romeo Langford, shoe companies routinely pay families of athletes in an effort to steer them toward schools they invest in.
Some of the payments are legal – as with the cash given to fathers who run summer basketball programs affiliated with a shoe company. Some are not – like the cash reportedly given to Brian Bowen’s father by Adidas.
All of the payments, legal and illegal, have one purpose – to raise the profile of a shoe company by compelling a player to commit to one of the schools that shoe company sponsors.
Shoe companies pay a significant amount of money to align itself with a school and its basketball program. Steering players to those programs is a way for them to proactively guarantee return on their investment.
The solution that will scrub the cash flow from shoe companies to player families is simple – strip the return on investment from the equation. Ban shoe companies from investing millions of dollars in sponsorship agreements with schools.
That would fix the issue once and for all, but schools don’t want to turn off that cash spigot. See, the schools want as much cash as they can get, but work hard to deny athletes that same opportunity. I’m not screaming for the legalization of shoe company payments to athletes, just stating the obvious hypocrisy of allowing schools the opportunity to profit while deny athletes the same privilege.
Big time programs get a ton of money from shoe companies. A total of greater than $300-million is invested by Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour for the ability to throw their shoes on the feet of athletes, and logos on the coaches’ shirts and players’ jerseys. The leader in the clubhouse for cash gained through a shoe deal is UCLA – the Bruins get $9-million each year from Under Armour.
Think Under Armour is going to stand idly by and hope football coach Chip Kelly and hoops coach Mick Cronin are able to compel enough talented athletes to pledge UCLA to make that investment pay off? Or are they more likely to peel off a few Benjamins to ensure it?
Turn off the shoe cash to schools, and offers of improper inducements will evaporate, but what school is willing to take that stand? When was the last time you heard of a business, person, or organization of any kind to say no to quick cash?
So the cycle of impermissible payments will continue, and occasionally someone is going to be a dumbass about it and get caught. The outrage machine will gear up for a couple of news cycles before drifting into the recesses of our consciousness – again. Now and then, the NCAA will impanel a wacky group of do-gooders who will propose all kinds of idiotic fixes – like the latest chaired by Condoleezza Rice that came to the absurd conclusion that the cause of recruiting violations was the construct of summer basketball.
That made sense to nobody outside the Rice Commission.
A more reasonable assessment would have been that the current environment is the product of a free market run by the cabal of sweatsuit clad shoe guys, which is beyond the scope of NCAA enforcers.
Fixing the problem is easy but expensive for athletic departments already awash with extreme wealth driven by wildly lucrative media deals. Enough is a word foreign to presidents and trustees who demand more athletic money for university projects. No such thing for coaches as too much money. No such thing as enough ROI for the shoe companies trying to moving product based upon alignment with a football and men’s basketball program.
Pretending to fix the problem by presenting silly solutions that have nothing to do with the root problem of greed is what we’ve come to expect. And that’s what will be delivered every time outrage erupts – because the fix is to say no to cash, and NO ONE wants that.