Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Waiting For The Weekend: Power and Greed Edition

Posted on November 06, 2009 by Dean Hybl
Power and Greed seem to be running rampant in sports.

Power and Greed seem to be running rampant in sports.

In a week in which the New York Yankees claimed the World Series title it seems fitting to look at greed and power in the world of sports. Unfortunately, it isn’t very hard to find, even in the case of college athletics.

It’s All In The Shoes

Given that his father is synonymous with the company, it is likely that Marcus Jordan had a Nike swoosh on his pacifier as a baby and certainly grew up wearing shoes and clothes designed by the famous sports apparel company.

Now a freshman basketball player at the University of Central Florida (UCF), the young Jordan has become a central figure in a “shoe war” even before playing his first college game.

Seems that UCF has a long-term relationship with adidas and recently agreed on a new 6-year, $3-million deal that called for all UCF athletic teams to wear adidas apparel and equipment.

Evidently, at the time Jordan was being recruited to UCF, he asked if he would be able to wear a Nike shoe endorsed by his father instead of the adidas shoes provided to the school. According to all accounts from UCF, the regional adidas representative gave approval for Marcus to wear Nike shoes during games. I’m willing to bet it was an important component of why he ultimately chose UCF.

However, within the last week came word that the national adidas management had overturned that exception and that UCF was subject to having their contract revoked if Jordan didn’t wear adidas shoes.

We also have learned that adidas has previously made several exceptions for athletes (mostly kickers) who prefer Nike shoes, both at UCF and at other schools.

However, none of those athletes happened to be the son of the most recognized spokesperson for their biggest competitor.

In addition, and this may be a very key point in why this rival company is holding firm, none of those other athletes had a father who draped an American flag over his shoulder at the 1992 Olympic medal ceremony to ensure that he wasn’t photographed with a Reebok label on his chest.

Though this situation involves adidas, rather than Reebok, I’m willing to bet that all competitors in the apparel industry have had encounters with the senior Jordan over the years and would relish the opportunity to stick one to a ruthless businessman who always seems willing to throw sticks in the direction of others.

So, 18-year old Marcus Jordan was suddenly put into an unfair position of having to choose between wearing the shoes he had worn his entire life and one that is provided under his schools apparel contract.

Sure it would seem to many that Marcus could have just sucked it up and laced up the adidas sneakers. However, having gone through the proper channels and received initial permission, Jordan rightfully decided to hold UCF to their verbal agreement that he could wear his dad’s brand of shoe.

To their credit, UCF officials have sided with their freshman athlete, saying the choice was completely up to him, regardless of the consequences for the school’s contract with adidas.

Living here in Orlando and watching the entire saga unfold, I have been amazed by this power play by adidas.

Especially after I actually saw the shoes.

Can you tell that these shoes are from Nike?

Can you tell that these shoes are from Nike?

They are very nice white high top shoes with no visible Nike logo. If you didn’t know that they were Nike shoes, I don’t think most people would pay it any mind.

To make adidas seem even pettier in my mind, for the team’s first exhibition game Wednesday night, Marcus even had clearly marked adidas anklets directly above the shoes so that anyone who saw them would see the adidas logo.

It almost seemed to me like Marcus was going out of his way to say, “I’ll do whatever you want me to do to highlight adidas, just please let me wear my dad’s shoes.”

Instead, seemingly before the game was even over a statement was sent to the media (rather than to the school) announcing that the agreement with UCF would be terminated.

Of course the speculation here is that “Daddy” and Nike should sweep in and rescue UCF. So far that hasn’t happened, but I expect it will.

Doing so would both make them the heroes, but also further emphasize the pettiness of adidas.

Though I don’t know all the facts, I have a hard time not siding with UCF on this entire situation.

I understand they have an agreement with adidas for their athletes to wear their apparel, but exceptions have previously been made and in this case the exception was requested and approval given months ago.

Adidas may have been trying to send a message to their clients across the country of the importance of sticking to their agreements, but I can’t help but think that the real message they have sent is not one they will like.

It seems to me that in trying to stick one to Michael Jordan and play tough with UCF they have signaled to potential clients that adidas can’t be flexible when situations would seem to warrant flexibility.

I expect Nike, Reebok and the others will be reminding potential clients of adidas’s tough stance the next time they are battling for a contract.

As for young Marcus, I hope that this “shoe war” proves to be just a minor early skirmish and not the defining moment of his college career.

It certainly has to be tough to be the son of a legend trying to follow in his footsteps. I’m sure this is not the start that Marcus would have wanted, but hopefully he will show some of the toughness that was a trademark of his father’s career.

I doubt he will ever be “Air Jordan”, but even if Marcus is only half as good as his dad, he will still be better than most.

NCAA Flexes Its Muscle

The NCAA is in the news again for their tough stance regarding Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant.

Now I don’t know the entire sordid story, but evidently the NCAA has suspended Bryant for an entire calendar year because he lied to them about a meeting he had at the home of Deion Sanders earlier this year.

Thanks to the NCAA, Dez Bryant's next catch will be in the NFL.

Thanks to the NCAA, Dez Bryant's next catch will be in the NFL.

I have no idea what happened at that meeting, which Sanders and Bryant claim was completely innocent and didn’t break any NCAA rules, but given the less than even handed history of the NCAA, I can’t completely blame Bryant for initially being reluctant to tell the NCAA exactly what he was doing.

This is the same NCAA that when I was in college at James Madison University once made the football team hold a “practice” at a high school in the Virginia Beach area to justify the college paying to transport the team to the funeral of a team member who was tragically killed during the preseason in an on-campus accident.

That rule has since been changed, but they seem to be really good at manipulating rules and making the crime fit the punishment, rather than the other way around.

As a sign of just how much the NCAA really doesn’t get it, their comment is that they are actually being lenient on Bryant because they could have taken his eligibility away entirely.

I wonder if it has dawned on anyone at the NCAA office that the gifted receiver will probably be catching passes in the NFL next season so allowing him to regain his eligibility in September 2010 really isn’t doing Bryant any good.

Here is my brash prediction for the week.

I believe when the history of sports in the period from 1950 through 2050 is written, the NCAA will ultimately be looked at as one of the most heavy handed and overall worst organizations in all of athletics.

Governing college sports teams is certainly needed, but the NCAA has been the most inconsistent and self-serving organization you could ever imagine.

There has been talk for years that some day college athletes (and maybe even the schools themselves) will band together and topple the NCAA.

Because of the power and wealth of the NCAA it will never be easy, but I predict that action will eventually occur. As the money continues to increase, eventually an individual or group will come along and figure out how to harness the value of the student-athletes in a way where they can see the fruits of their efforts, not the NCAA.

It may not happen in my lifetime, but I believe someday it will. At least I hope so.

Each week we look at some current and former athletes who were born during the week.

Here are some notable sports figures born during this week:
November 6 – James Naismith (1861), Walter Johnson (1887), Eric Kramer (1964)
November 7 – Joe Niekro (1944), Andy Tomberlin (1966), Kris Benson (1974)
November 8 – Frank McGuire (1916), Paul Butcher (1963), Chuck Cecil (1964), Quadry Ismail (1970)
November 9 – Whitey Herzog (1931), Bob Gibson (1935), Tony Phillips (1959)
November 10 – Clyde “Bulldog” Turner (1919), Mike Powell (1963)
November 11 – Harold “Pie” Traynor (1899), Otis Armstrong (1950), Fuzzy Zoeller (1951), Steve Young (1961), Vinnie Testaverde (1963)
November 12 – Tuffy Leemans (1912), Al Michaels (1945), Michael Moorer (1967), Tonya Harding (1970)

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