The chancellor of the University of Maryland's College Park school said yesterday that Maryland's Lefty Driesell and 16 other major college basketball coaches signing personal-endorsement contracts is only "another example of the commercialization of college athletics."
"They are free to make their own arrangements with regard to commercial endorsements," said Robert Gluckstern, the chancellor.
Under the contracts Driesell and the other coaches signed with the Nike shoe company, they are being paid up to $10,000 each annually to promote the company's shoe. Part of the deal includes free shoes for each coach's team.
"It would be most unwise if we didn't take opportunities for free equipment or reduced prices if there are no strings attached," Gluckstern said. "Its is another example of the commercialization of college athletics. You have to be on guard against it, but it can be kept legal and in bounds."
According to Driesell, the university will save $8,000-$10,000 annually by getting the free shoes. He said that his players chose to wear Nike over two other brands that were offered free to the Terrapins this season.
Nike escalated the basketball shoe war this summer with what one company official called "an aggressive attack" at cutting into Converse's domination of basketball shoe sales. The basketball shoes - with their distinctive logos - also afford advertising sales in other sneaker-type leisure shoes.
Converse sold $150 million worth of shoes last year, including about $105 million worth of basketball shoes. Nike, a leader in jogging shoes, sold $71 million worth of shoes last year, but only about $7 million in basketball. Other shoes are also in the market, including Pro-Keds, Adidas and Puma.
Maryland Athletic Director Carl James said, "My only feeling about equipment is that it is a quality, safe piece of equipment."
He said he had no problem about endorsements "as long as we abide by the rules of the NCAA about student-athletes receiving gifts."
Joe Hall, coach of defending national champion Kentucky, denied reports that he turned down a lucrative personal endorsement offer from Nike. Kentucky wears Converse.
"I wouldn't resent an offer," Hall said."I don't have any deals and the school doesn't have any. I wouldn't judge whether it's wrong or not, but I definitely want to be able to switch brands without any tampering.
"All I want is for my team to be uniform. I judge what shoe has best traction. We go with American-made shoes."
Eddie Sutton, coach at Arkansas, an NCAA semifinalist last year, said Nike approached him this year. He declined Nike's offer and his team has been trying out four different brands of shoes given to them free. They have worn Converse.
"I was a little cool to it (Nike's offer) at first," said Sutton. "I'd never had any experience with their shoes. That's the first priority - Do they have a good product? Do the players like their shoes?"
"Nike hit upon an idea. They've become very aggressive. It will be interesting to see what kind of results they get," Sutton said. "I know that what brand of shoes North Carolina and Kentucky wear has got to have a great impact on shoes sold in that state."
Sutton said he believes Nike's giving free shoes to the players makes that company's contract legitimate.
"It would be difficult if the coaches were the only ones getting something out of it," he said. "I would think then the athletic directors and college presidents would be up in arms . . . I can't fault the coaches. This profession has a lot of pluses, but it has a lot of minuses when you start losing."