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Nike, HBCUs strike deal – Historically Black Colleges and Universities

Concerns and praise raised as history-making pact gets underway

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and
sporting goods giant Nike announced last month, that they have signed a
historic, three-year agreement that will not only provide footwear and
apparel for conference teams, but also will include summer internships
for students at Nike headquarters.

It is the first time that Nike has worked with historically Black
institutions as a group. It also is only the second time the company
has entered into a comprehensive partnership with an NCAA conference —
the other involving Big 10 women’s basketball.

“What this agreement does is, we don’t have to buy shoes and some
apparel and we get other apparel at wholesale cost,” said Charles S.
Harris, commissioner of the conference. “Practically, this reduces what
institutions have to spend in real money. Ideally, the money is … put
back into the program, into facilities, staffing, or whatever. It
benefits student athletes.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the MEAC,” said Kit Morris,
director of college sports marketing for Nike. “The MEAC has long been
a conference committed to excellence in collegiate athletics. Nike
shares that drive and eagerly looks forward to further [growth] over
the next three years.”

The deal provides footwear and apparel for conference football and
women’s basketball teams. It also provides opportunities for the
company to outfit championship teams and promote its products at
conference events. Additionally, each school receives a discount on
other merchandise purchased from Nike.

Neither the MEAC nor Nike would discuss the financial terms of the
deal. But others estimate the savings, in terms of footwear and
apparel, amounts to between $15,000 and $20,000 per school — making
the annual sum value of that part of the deal between $165,000 and

Furthermore, each MEAC school must annually purchase as much as $20,000 worth of additional sports merchandise from Nike.

About the internship part of the agreement, Harris said, “It was
not a deal-breaker, but we felt strongly enough about them that if they
didn’t share the conference view of internships and creating
opportunities for African Americans as part and parcel of what we want
to do, it would give us pause whether we want to do business.”

Morris said the deal has been in the works since the Olympic Trials
two years ago. He credits Harris — who has served as athletic director
at Arizona State University and the University of Pennsylvania, and as
an assistant athletics director at the University of Michigan before
becoming MEAC commissioner in 1996 — as the deal’s catalyst.

“I think [Harris’s] experiences as an athletics administrator helped,” Morris said.

Although Morris, citing company policy, would not go into the
specifics of the deal, he did say that men’s college basketball was
originally included in the package. However, existing relationships
between some of the MEAC men’s basketball teams and other sports
equipment companies forced that component of collegiate athletics out
of the agreement.

“It was a challenge,” Morris said, adding, “We wanted a relationship that we could have now.”

Hallie Gregory, athletics director at the University of
Maryland-Eastern Shore (UMES), called the deal a good thing for the
entire conference.

“It’s a win-win situation with great implications for more down the
road ” he said of the benefits the agreement will give the conference.
“It also helps individual institutions. Kids are excited to say, `We’re
a Nike school.'”

UMES doesn’t field a football team. As a result, the university —
like all MEAC schools that do not have football — will have to
purchase $12,000 worth of sporting goods from Nike yearly. But Gregory
says that the school would have to purchase those goods anyway, and now
they can get them wholesale.

According to Deborah K. Johnson, an associate athletics director at
Howard University, the Nike arrangement should enhance the appeal of
the MEAC.

“[It] may assist in [obtaining] television contracts, visibility,
and oneness because all schools will be wearing equipment from the same
vender,” she said.

Howard, like other MEAC schools with football teams, will have to
buy $20,000 in merchandise annually from Nike. But Johnson notes, as
did Harris of UMES, that buying wholesale saves money, making the
commitment worth it.

MEAC members with football teams have to spend more because, as
Johnson points out, those schools have more athletes to outfit.
Additionally, because of the large number of athletes on football
teams, those institutions tend to offer more women’s sports to comply
with the gender-equity requirements of Title IX.

To put the MEAC contract into perspective, media sources reveal
that in recent years Nike has struck bigger deals with traditionally
White universities in the same region. The University of Florida, for
example, has a $9 million, three-year deal with Nike; Duke has a
seven-year, $15 millon deal with the sporting goods company; and
Clemson University has an $8 million, eight-year deal.

But Questions Remain

Darcel Estep, coach of Morgan State University’s women’s basketball
team, offered an explanation for Nike’s commitment: “I don’t think it
is a secret that Nike benefits a lot from African American people.
[Nike] identifies with the … historically Black conference. This
attracts a lot of African American fans, players, and companies to the
conference when they see Nike taking an investment.”

Estep estimates the savings to women’s basketball at Morgan State
will be between $8,000 and $10,000 annually, an amount she hopes to put
into recruiting.

“This is what the contract can do,” she said. “It helps us move
forward, not only at Morgan, but throughout the conference. It will
help us grow by helping those who may not have been fortunate [enough]
to have deals like this, to use the money for other things, and [to]
have the conference be more competitive.”

But while most officials at the MEAC’s eleven member institutions
praised the arrangement, some question the fairness of the deal. Also,
there is concern that some schools will be provided with less equipment
that they previously enjoyed — either from Nike or from other sports

“They didn’t involve me in this,” complained Sanya Tyler, Howard’s
women’s basketball coach. “I never saw the contract and had to press
them recently on what was in the contract. It has been a secret kind of
thing and I don’t know why it had to be hush-hush. They didn’t give
[our] program an opportunity to review it.”

Another women’s basketball coach, who asked for anonymity, said the
deal annually calls for 100 pairs of shoes for each team, as well as
uniforms, warm-up clothing, carry bags, and practice togs. Such a deal
does not meet total team requirements, the coach said, necessitating
the purchase of additional equipment from Nike.

“I can’t see why we made this deal,” the coach said.

At Bethune-Cookman, Sandra Booker has held the job of women’s
basketball coach for only three months. She said that she hasn’t had
the time to assess the deal, but acknowledges that she has received
some Nike shoes for her team, which begins practice on October 15.

“We didn’t quite have a shipment,” she said. “They were not all the
same color and many of the sizes were not right. We are anticipating [a
corrected shipment] before the season starts. Until the shoes show up,
we don’t know if we can be happy or not with the deal.”

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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