When the top recruits for any sport are choosing what school to attend, there's many factors that weigh into that decision. The location of the school, the program's history, the coach, and these days, who the school is outfitted by for apparel. Rick Pitino, longtime coach of Louisville, is now sounding off and is bashing the influence Nike and other major brands have on athletes decision when committing to a school.
Louisville is sponsored by adidas, but has had trouble recruiting some of the nation's top players for the last several years. Most recently, Antonio Blakeney, a highly touted recruit from Nike-sponsored E1T1, withdrew his commitment to play for Louisville, and is now considering playing for either Kentucky, Missouri and LSU, which are all sponsored by Nike.
“I think we need to deal with,” Pitino said Thursday. “What I personally don’t like is I can’t recruit a kid because he wears Nike on the AAU circuit. I’ve never heard of such a thing but it’s happening in our world. I never thought that shoes would be the reason that you recruit players but it’s a factor. I think we need to get the shoe companies out of the lives of the athletes. I think we need to get it back to where parents and coaches have more of a say than peripheral people, but that’s easier said than done.”
Nike and other brands bring in major profits for school's through apparel sales, so it's hard for the universities to draw a line when the dollars keep pouring in. In some places like the University of Oregon, some players have went so far to say they chose playing for the Ducks primarily because their relationship with Nike.
“In the past five years I’ve seen a tremendous change on this,” said Pitino. “It’s a very competitive thing between these shoe companies. They are competing like we do for recruits. But it’s very tough to address because our pockets are lined with their money.”
Don't get it confused adidas, as Pitino is apparently very happy with the services they have provided thus far and will continue to keep them on a their primary sponsor. Once shoe companies throw their hat into the recruiting process, the pool of talent automatically shrinks, as some players all but make up their mind based on what brand they want to wear.
“I have my own choice which shoe company, I’m sort of separate from the university in that regard,” Pitino said. “Right now I’m very comfortable where we are with adidas because we are having great success. If I didn’t feel we could have great success I would have recommended we go with Under Armor or Nike. But it was my fault, not the shoe companies, that I didn’t do a good enough job researching how big a factor certain things are with certain people.”
Interesting take by Pitino, as it shows just how much influence Nike can have. The allure that comes with the Swoosh is undeniable. Should players really choose what school to attend based on the school's shoe sponsor? We would like to think no and focus more on the academic side of the fence, but we all know that's not the culture we live in.