Written by Matt Welty (@MatthewJWelty)
Last week, two University of Oregon men's basketball players, reserve forward Ben Carter and guard Dominic Artis, were suspended nine games each by the NCAA for selling exclusive player-edition sneakers gifted to them by the university, and indirectly from its most notable alumni, Nike founder Phil Knight. They've also each been forced to donate $1,800 to charity—the amount of money they received for selling the sneakers.
The Oregon Ducks beat the Georgetown Hoyas last Friday in South Korea in a game that drew plenty of attention. This wasn't just because Oregon's basketball team was ranked number 19 in the country, but because the school is the darling of sneakerheads across the globe. Its PE Air Jordans—most notably the IIIs, IVs, and Vs—along with its Nike basketball sneakers have launched the school into the blog spotlight.
It's not known which sneakers Carter and Artis were caught selling, but several of the pairs that the players and alumni have been gifted sell on the secondary market for the same price (or more) than a full semester at the university. Rappers like Drake wear them, Kevin Durant is given the Jordan IIIs during a visit to Oregon, and every sneakerhead wants to get their hands on a pair of Air Jordans that have a huge "O" on the tongue. So why are these basketball players selling what should be some of the most coveted mementos from their college careers?
The players themselves, Carter and Artis, couldn't have more different career trajectories. Carter, a 6'8 sophomore forward, received minimal playing time during his freshman campaign, while his counterpart-in-"crime," Artis, who is also a sophomore, is the team's starting point guard. It's easiest to simply blame the players, and call them greedy for wanting to profit off something that's given to them in good faith. Artis even offered a mea culpa, saying, "I want to apologize to the University, to Coach Altman and to my teammates for selling team apparel."
It's easiest to simply blame the players, and call them greedy for wanting to profit off something that's given to them in good faith.
Every college player gets gear, but going to Oregon assures that yours will be the coolest and most exclusive. Most other schools are lucky to just get a workout outfit, team uniform, and a pair of sneakers, in team colors, that could likely be purchased from Eastbay. Oregon players are given product that's not even intended to be worn athletically, and it makes them the envy of people who don't have that direct access to Nike. Heck, it makes them the envy of people who ENDORSE Nike.
Every time a new Oregon exclusive is revealed, the collective Internet loses its shit. Nike has even created Oregon color schemes of the Diamond Turf that can be purchased at the mall to feed sneakerheads' hunger for anything that comes in green, black, and yellow. Everyone wants the real thing, though. Even if that means paying prices that range into the thousands just for one pair of sneakers.
Can we point the finger at sneakerheads then? Without them wanting to buy the sneakers, there wouldn't be a secondary market for any of these limited-edition sneakers. But there will be always be people who are willing to spend crazy amounts of cash on Jordans, whether they come from Oregon or not. And Oregon isn't the only school who gets PEs. Georgetown also received PE Air Jordan IVs, but none of their players have been suspended for selling the sneakers.
The school, however, is allowing the players to get hooked up by Nike. "Uncle" Phil Knight has given the school over $300M, and has his own locker in the team's locker room. Tinker Hatfield, the man who designed the Air Jordans it's rumored that the players sold, is also an Oregon alumni. Nike has been connected to Oregon since before there even was a Nike, when Phil Knight was a Ducks runner coached by Bill Bowerman. The connection between the university and the athletic brand has only deepened over the years, but it's not hidden by any means. This isn't a case of a booster making illegal payments.
At the center of this discussion is the NCAA, the ruling body of college athletics who handed down the suspension to both Carter and Artis. The NCAA does not allow athletes to profit during their playing careers. They're allowed to receive full scholarships, but after that, everything gets very blurry. Receiving the sneakers alone could be viewed as an improper benefit. Air Jordan IIIs were originally intended to be basketball sneakers, but very few people expect the sneakers to ever see a court in 2013.
Being gifted the sneakers is simply a cosmetic benefit and thank you from Nike. If a player is struggling to keep up with their personal finances, selling sneakers—which might have a greater value to someone outside of the program than the players who receive them—is an easy way to make quick change.
Oregon's sneakers are constantly blogged about on a regular basis. There's an endless supply of sneakerheads who want the sneakers and a very prohibitive stock of these shoes. But if a player wants (or needs) quick cash now, they're forced to wait until after their college career is over to sell the benefits that they "properly" received.
If the players were dished a few bucks for their hard work on the court, there wouldn't a need to profit off selling their sneakers. They could live the life of a normal college kid who happens to be a baller and lounge in the freshest kicks, which they paid for with their hard-earned sweat.