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September 22, 2005 - Image 22

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2005-09-22

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The commercialization of college

By Ian Herbert Managing Sports Editor





three-run shot
to left field,
the Michigan
softball team
became the first team east of the
Mississippi River to win a softball
championship. Michigan Athletic
Director Bill Martin spent most of
that week in Oklahoma City with
his wife - the two of them watch-
ing the Wolverines win game after
game of the Women's College
Softball World Series. To Martin,
the Nike swooshes on the players'
jerseys were probably insignifi-
cant - hardly noticeable after so
many years. What he was focusing
on was the ping of the aluminum
bats and the roll of the ball across
the dirt infield.
Kit Morris wasn't in Oklahoma, but he cared
about the game almost as much. For that first
week in June, Morris centered his life on the
women of the Michigan softball team. Morris is
an executive at Nike, and he is in charge of all
of Nike's collegiate contracts - Michigan, Ari-
zona, Texas and more.
Morris roots for Michigan regularly. The
school is one of his company's longest-standing
partners; plus, he's always sort of liked the Wol-
verines. He even makes it out to the occasional
football game at the Big House.
That week, Morris spent a lot of his time with
the channel stuck on ESPN. Because he lives
and works in Beaverton, Ore., he went home
early from work to watch the Wolverines take on
UCLA. He spent the weekend with his wife at
home watching softball. For Morris, and prob-
ably for some executive at Adida, the California
college's big-time corporate sponsor, the game
meant something.
In his office at Nike, Morris even keeps a pic-
ture of the 2001 national champion Michigan
field hockey team that is autographed by all of
the players and coaches.

It seems odd that big-time executives at multi-
million dollar companies care so much about
what happens in the Women's College Softball
World Series, but these teams and games mean a
lot to corporate America.
University lands on
Planet Nike
ichigan was involved with Nike
for many years before 1994, but
it was that year that still defines
the Michigan-Nike relationship. In
Oct. 1994, the Michigan Athletic
Department - led by then-Athletic
Director Joe Roberson - signed the first school-
wide contract. In the deal, Nike agreed to provide
jerseys, shoes and equipment for all 25 Michigan
athletic teams. It also agreed to pay Michigan a
substantial sum of money.
Including royalties for Nike products bearing
the Michigan name, the total came to about $7
million during the six-year contract, or more than
$1 million per year. Michigan's current agree-
ment, which was signed in January 2001 and runs
through August 2008, will pay Michigan nearly
$30 million for the opportunity to put the Nike
swoosh on all Michigan apparel.
Roberson, who is now 70 years old and retired,
insists that the money was the last consider-
ation he made when negotiating the sponsorship
deal - and it's true that the Michigan Athletic
Department was already running a pretty strong
surplus throughout the years with Roberson at
-the helm.
"The first thing I wanted to get was control,"
Roberson says. "I wanted to be able to have the
say in what our coaches were getting, what they
were giving away. The second thing I wanted
to have was equalization - I wanted the whole
department to have it. And the third thing I want-
ed was to maximize it. ... We didn't need money,
but if you're going to do that kind of thing, you
might as well get as much as you can out of it."
Roberson, sitting at a small restaurant that is
walking distance from his house in Bloomfield
Hills discusses one of the more stressful peri-
ods of his eventful life. Standing up, his nearly
6-foot-6 frame gives him away as a former ath-
lete - he played minor league baseball for five
years out of high school before getting degrees
in education and athletic administration. But sit-
ting down, wearing a golf shirt with a country
club emblem, khaki shorts, sneakers and white
tube socks, his athletic frame is disguised as he
discusses his former life as a Michigan athletic
"I took heat like you can't believe," Roberson
recalls. "The number of times people told me that

I had sold out - which was insane."
For the same reasons he did a dozen years ago,
Roberson says he still believes that signing with
Nike was the right call. At the time, many Michi-
gan coaches had individual contracts with apparel
companies. Even though Nike and the Michigan
athletic department confirmed the coaches' con-
tracts, neither would discuss how much they were
Roberson estimates that both former basket-
ball coach Steve Fisher and former football coach
Gary Moeller were raking in more than $100,000
a year to guarantee that their players wore Nike
products. And even though Nike had wrapped up
the two major revenue-producing sports, other
corporate sponsors could be found on the jerseys,
shoes, socks and wristbands of dozens of other
"To me the issue then became, who was giving
what to whom for what," Roberson says. "Some-
times these contracts were written, sometimes
they were handshakes, and nobody knew who
was providing what to whom."
"Frankly, our women's soccer team looked like
a walking ad for Adidas - they had huge letters
all over their jerseys."
Roberson claims that he wanted to reel in these
corporate contracts under one roof. Uncomfort-
able with Nike and Adidas and Reebok paying
his coaches more than he was, he wanted to
replace all the existing contracts between indi-
vidual coaches and apparel companies with one,
all-encompassing contract.
"The whole notion that intercollegiate athletics
wasn't commercial - and that Michigan wasn't
commercial - before this contract was totally
off-base," Roberson says. "If anybody sold their
soul, intercollegiate athletics did it. They sold it
a long time ago, and they sold it to television."
"We're in
show business"
o with that argument, Roberson took
a proposal for the Nike contract to
the then-University president James
If it had been a couple of years
earlier, he probably wouldn't have
even approached the president. A few years ear-
lier, Michigan required the athletic director to
get approval of higher University authorities
- the president and the chief financial offi-
cer - on any outside agreements. For his own
conscience, Duderstadt probably wishes it had
stayed that way. The president emeritus is now
one of Michigan's most outspoken critics of the
growing commercialization of collegiate athlet-


8B - The Michigan Daily - Thursday, September 22, 2005

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