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Rutgers’ move to Adidas: what’s going on?

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Money drives everything, including the way our teams look. But just how well did we do in this proposal?

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If you like that display in the photo above, the one in the lobby of the Hale Center, save the picture. It won’t be there come July 1.

Last spring, at the R Awards, Rutgers and Nike debuted new uniforms, including a new Knight's head logo. There were new number fonts and a "chain mail" design to be incorporated into the new clothing line.

And for the most part, the reception was positive. It was positive in that the uniforms - especially for football - would be red/scarlet and not salmon or whatever it was that was unveiled in 2012. But there were some who disliked the new font, or that lack of panache or flair in the design. Well, you will be happy because we’re going to change it...again.

As reported by Keith Sargeant and addressed earlier today right here, Rutgers is in negotiations with Adidas to become the exclusive provider of apparel for Rutgers Athletics.

Buh-bye, Nike swoosh. Hello, three striped pyramid.

Rutgers will join Nebraska and Indiana as the only schools in the Big Ten utilizing the German sportswear maker. Michigan and Wisconsin recently gave up their Adidas ties to go with Nike and Under Armour, respectively. Louisville, NC State, Texas A & M, Miami, Mississippi State, Kansas, and Arizona State are the only other P5 schools listed on the Adidas website that use the brand for their apparel.

It seems like a very odd move. Only a year ago, we were showing off the new stuff; new chain mail design, new secondary logo, new “proprietary” font. The guess by me and more than a few others was that Nike, with just a year to go on its contract with RU, was likely to sign on again since it was going through all this effort. Not so.

In Sargeant’s report, which cites unnamed sources, Nike had the right of first refusal on a new contract. It apparently decided the Knights weren’t big enough and was going to pass on renewing.

Why, then, go through the machinations of creating the new logo (it was a Nike design) and the font? Why bother to design and create new uniforms for football and basketball?

Sargeant also reported that Hobbs was interested in going the Under Armour route and even was interested in a UA trophy game with the Terps, the UA school. Then again....

Adidas’ market share in college sports is not near what Nike and Under Armour have. And there are far more P5 schools with Nike or UA than with Adidas.

The Portland Business Journal creates an annual data base for this type of stuff. It’s most recent one for the 2016-17 school year was provided to me by their writer, Matt Kish. And it’s very telling.

Among the schools in the Big Ten that are reported, Rutgers’ contract comes in at number 12 of 12. Two of the schools reporting have now switched to Nike for the current school year.

Nike, using Oregon as its “laboratory”, has created some of the more unique and desired items for college teams. Some, of course, have been not well received (we see you, RU salmon unis). But Under Armour has also jumped the shark occasionally (as with virtually every Maryland uniform). Adidas, though, has also recently gotten lots of criticisms for its uniforms.

Beyond the designs, there are any number of questions that need to be asked. Some were addressed in a piece by the Asbury Park Press’ Jerry Carino.

The gist of the story goes to the cloudy world that is college basketball recruiting. There are more than a few AAU programs and the like that are supported by apparel companies not named Adidas. And if the folks who run those programs have influence over the players’ decisions of where to go to school, then Steve Pikiell just hit one more speed bump on the way to bringing men’s hoops back to respectability.

In comments on our posts, people have noted that recruits - the 17 and 18-year olds that drive us crazy - are impressed by the flash and pop of the uniforms. Maybe there is a lot more in that decision-making than looks.

The other big question is why did Nike bail on Rutgers? Rutgers is a Big Ten school. We are in the major media capital. We are on TV often enough. And as a Forbes article last summer noted:

These deals amount to having the sports programs--primarily football and basketball--serve as rolling billboards for their brands, appearing on television and online over and over again even after the sporting event is over.

Was Rutgers not successful enough? Is there still a cloud over the athletic program that Nike (and apparently Under Armour) wanted to avoid? Rutgers isn’t Michigan or Texas or Alabama. It isn’t even Purdue. If a lack of success is the issue, then that opens up another avenue that Pat Hobbs needs to travel down. If it’s a cloud and perception, then, again, Hobbs and time will hopefully address that.

The next contract, and we have to now expect that it will be with Adidas, is apparently better than the one with Nike. But it isn’t the huge windfall that a lot of people expected or were hoping to see. And if the money isn’t that great, and it negatively impacts recruiting, how good a deal is it?

We’ll all find out soon enough.