Jerry Nichols, a senior basketball player at Arkansas State, has refused to wear the Adidas sneakers the school provides him because he believes they might be partially responsible for the serious knee injury he suffered four years ago.

Because Arkansas State is contractually obligated to outfit its team with Adidas, Nichols can't practice with the team, much less play games, unless he relents. He has missed three practices.

The case illustrates the increasing control shoe companies have on both universities and their student-athletes. Hundreds of colleges nationwide, and many top-tier coaches, are compensated by shoe companies that outfit their teams with uniforms and sneakers. And from the time they enter middle school, most elite basketball players are ushered around the country to play in summer camps sponsored by shoe companies. In fact, Nichols played for a Nike-sponsored summer league basketball team in high school and wants to wear Nikes now, Arkansas State Coach Dickey Nutt said yesterday.

Nichols, who has undergone surgery after tearing two knee ligaments, still attends 6 a.m. therapy sessions to strengthen the knee, Nutt said. When a reporter asked Nutt whether it is fair to force Nichols to wear Adidas despite his health concerns and the fact that he receives no compensation from the company, the coach replied, "That is something that I prefer not to comment on." Athletic Director Dean Lee did not return a phone message.

Nichols initially tried to practice wearing Nikes with the logo covered but was told that was not permitted, according to the Jonesboro (Ark.) Sun. He told the newspaper that he does not want to be viewed as a malcontent but that he "has a right to protect himself," adding: "I feel like there should be an exception for some things like my knee. Obviously I'm concerned about that, and I'm concerned about my future."

Nutt, who said he does not receive compensation from Adidas, finds himself torn between loyalty toward his employer and empathy for his player. Nutt said he received a telephone call from Nichols's mother, who said, "When you recruited my son, you told me you would take care of him."

"I am, to the best that I know how," Nutt said in a phone interview. "I am also very loyal to Arkansas State University. I work for my president. When they tell me to do something, I do it. If they tell me to wear Adidas, I wear it. And I have no problem. I love my shoes."

Nutt said Arkansas State is in its first year of its contract with Adidas and received sneakers at a discounted rate. Like all college players around the country, Nichols is not allowed to receive compensation from shoe companies while in school.

-- Eric Prisbell