Open-records report | 20 things to know about college athletic apparel contracts

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Carrying Nike bags and wearing Nike shoes, Nike jackets and Nike caps, the Illinois football team arrives at Grange Grove before this month’s Penn State game.

Holly Hart/The News-Gazette

There were swooshes as far as the eye can see Saturday afternoon at Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium — on the field, the sidelines, the scoreboard, even the cheerleaders’ feet.

Both Illinois and Purdue, like six of their fellow Big Ten members, are “Nike schools,” meaning they struck multi-year, multimillion-dollar contracts with the apparel giant, which provides free everything — from the low-priced (220 shower slide sandals for Bret Bielema’s football team last season) to the high-end (26 pairs of LeBron XX basketball shoes for Shauna Green’s women) — in exchange for the publicity that comes with seeing a stadium full of swooshes on national television.

Every major college athletic department has such a contract, 25 of which Editor Jeff D’Alessio obtained via open records request and pored over for Part 5 of an ongoing explanatory series on the business side of college athletics.

1. Nike is the preferred supplier of uniforms and other athletic apparel for the majority of the schools in all five of the NCAA’s “Power-5” conferences (as they stand now, anyway). But with eight of 14 schools as clients, Nike’s piece of the current Big Ten pie is smaller than it is in the Big 12 (12 of 14), Pac-12 (10 of 12), SEC (10 of 14) and ACC (9 of 14).

In the Big Ten, INDIANA, NEBRASKA and RUTGERS wear Adidas, while MARYLAND, NORTHWESTERN and WISCONSIN are draped in Under Armour (founded by billionaire Maryland booster and former Terps linebacker/running back Kevin Plank).

Every Power 5 school but one has a contract with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, with all 67 mandating that players and coaches only wear and use that company’s — and no competitor’s — products at every practice, game, clinic, photo shoot and other official events.

The lone outlier of the 68: the BOSTON COLLEGE Eagles, brought to you since 2021 by New Balance.

2. What does being a Nike school get an athletic department these days? In ILLINOIS‘ case in 2022-23, $4.6 million worth (at wholesale prices) of free apparel, gear and other goodies, including 180 batting gloves for the baseball team, 112 knee pads for the volleyball team, 200 dri-fit skull wraps for the football team and hundreds of hoodies of all kinds — fleece ones, dri-fit ones, camouflage ones, bowl edition ones, ones that zip and ones that don’t.

Illinois’ apparel contract increases by $100,000 annually, topping out at $4.9 million in 2025-26. Some schools get more (OHIO STATE‘s $6.1 million), others less (IOWA‘s $3.4 million).

3. While not the 15-year, $250 million deal TEXAS struck with Nike a year earlier, the 10-year contract ILLINOIS signed in 2016 came with a big number of its own ($44.5 million) and a smarter structure than the one that preceded it.

Illinois’ previous contract provided it with $1.2 million worth of shoes, apparel and other items, as well as $325,000 cash, which it often wound up sending back to Nike to pay for all the stuff the annual allotment didn’t cover. Some years, the bill would be even higher — in 2013-14, Illinois shelled out $509,000 for extra gear.

4. Like other Big Ten deals, ILLINOIS‘ with Nike gives the company exclusive rights to produce all “performance wear” with the UI logo, plus any adult jerseys and replica jerseys. Illinois gets a 13 percent cut of all of those sales.

5. You won’t see a ref throw a penalty flag for it but there’s one sacred rule that every college football player wearing Nike, Adidas or Under Armour is warned never to break.

It’s called “spatting” and it refers to the practice of taping a player’s shoe and ankle together to provide extra support … while also covering up the company’s logo.

Lest there be any confusion, the official outfitter of the Illini states on page 14 that “the principal inducement for Nike’s entrance into this contract is the television and other media exposure that the Nike brand receives through the prominent visibility of Nike logos that appear on the side (and other locations) of the athletic shoes provided by Nike.”

So any instance of taping over the Nike swoosh, Adidas stripes or Under Armour thingamajig comes with serious consequences.

6. The first violation of spatting results in a written notice. At ILLINOIS, No. 2 would be followed by Nike cutting the school’s product allotment for that year by 5 percent, or $210,000. For No. 3, add 10 percent. No. 4, another 15 percent. The reductions are cumulative, meaning the university would be docked 30 percent, or $1.26 million, if it happened four times.

7. Adidas schools face similarly harsh penalties. Should the first spatting offense occur during a bowl game and the violator be INDIANA‘s quarterback, running back, wide receiver “or other media star at any other offensive, defensive or special teams position,” the written warning is foregone and it’s 10 percent off the school’s total compensation immediately. At IU, that would be a $165,000 hit.

8. Should a UCLA Bruin “suffer any lower body pain or discomfort attributable to (Nike) footwear which materially affects such player’s performance, and is verified in writing by the team’s physician,” the company will “diligently seek to address” the problem with special footwear.

If that doesn’t work, UCLA must make “reasonable efforts to encourage such player to fully cooperate” with Nike, which may include the following requests: a) being examined by a university podiatrist, in part to verify whether Nike shoes really caused the issue; b) making themselves available to Nike for design consultations or tests; and c) wearing customized footwear developed by Nike.

And if none of that works, the player shall be permitted to wear non-Nike footwear “provided all visible manufacturer’s identification is removed or otherwise covered so as to completely obscure such manufacturer’s identification.”

9. In addition to rosters full of walking billboards, shoe companies get oodles of other exposure, such as: one “video board element” touting Adidas’ arrangement with TEXAS A&M in the first and second halves of every football, baseball and men’s and women’s basketball home game; announcements recognizing Nike as the “exclusive product supplier” of IOWA athletics at any sporting event where a P.A. system is used; and four reposts a year of Under Armour-produced content on TEXAS TECH athletics-owned social media channels.

10. At OHIO STATE volleyball matches, “Nike shall have the right to have its name and/or logo appear on the net tape along with the words ‘Ohio State Volleyball.’”

11. At MICHIGAN STATE‘s Breslin Center, Nike can from “time to time” designate that a large electronic scorer’s table sign be used to tout its logo, website, brand or message for “no less than eight minutes during in-game running time.”

Deion Sanders

After a falling out in the 2000s, Coach Prime — aka Deion Sanders — is back with Nike.

Chris Torres/Denver Post

12. On every edition of the “Primetime Coaches Show,” starring one Deion Sanders, Nike is due “a minimum of one 30-second spot” identifying it as “the exclusive products supplier and sponsor” of COLORADO football.

13. And it’s not just exposure that apparel companies demand in return. Under the terms of its contract with ILLINOIS, Nike gets 24 season tickets — eight for football (between the 30-yard lines), eight for men’s basketball, four for women’s basketball and four others, plus four “VIP” parking passes for all football and basketball games.

That’s in addition to the 46 tickets (preferably adjacent seats) to one mutually-agreed-upon football game at Memorial Stadium and 17 for one mutually-agreed-upon men’s basketball game at State Farm Center.

14. Should all three Illini teams play in the postseason, like in 2022-23, Nike wants in, requiring 12 “best available” seats for the bowl game and another dozen apiece for basketball, including the Big Ten tournament and the NCAAs or NIT.

Michigan Stadium suite

The view from the fancy seats at Michigan Stadium, where Nike gets a suite for all home football games.

University of Michigan

15. MICHIGAN‘s arrangement calls for Nike to receive its own suite (football) and six-seat champion’s box (men’s basketball) throughout both teams’ seasons, with Nike picking up the tab for food and beverages consumed.

16. Should Adidas ask, INDIANA “shall make the coach of each university athletic program available for up to three appearances per contract year in connection with the advertisement, promotion and sale of Adidas products.”

17. For the extra exposure that comes with having players wearing its logo cut down the nets or hoist a trophy above their heads, Nike will pay out performance bonuses for teams that win national titles. At MISSOURI, those range from $10,000 (women’s soccer) to $100,000 (football).

18. That’s chump change compared to what the Adidas schools get. A national title in football, men’s basketball or women’s basketball at KANSAS is worth an extra $1 million. It pays to finish No. 2 nationally too — a runner-up showing by any of those Jayhawk teams comes with a $500,000 incentive.

19. It’s not just NEBRASKA athletes, coaches and staff who are expected to wear Adidas products. “Cheerleading, dance and other spirit squad members (must) exclusively wear Adidas products,” as well, the Cornhuskers’ contract states.

20. Should NORTH CAROLINA ever be banned from the postseason for not playing by NCAA rules (fat chance of that ever happening, ILLINOIS fans will tell you), Nike is in the right to reduce its annual cash compensation to the Tar Heels by 65 percent — which in 2023-24, would take it from $3.25 million to $1,137,500.

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