Watch an athletic event at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and you might think you’re watching a team from the University of Nike. The swoosh or Nike’s “Jumpman” silhouette of Michael Jordan are everywhere.
The logos appear on the players’ jerseys and shoes, the coaches’ apparel and footballs and basketballs.
But why are the Nike emblems so apparent and the amount of money they generate for coaches so hidden? Good question. And UNC is not giving a good answer.
The university is currently closing a new 10-year deal with Nike. It will no doubt be larger than the expiring $36.85 million 10-year-deal. And when the number is final, UNC will say what it is. But it won’t disclose the value of personal services contracts the shoe giant will have with UNC basketball coach Roy Williams and football coach Larry Fedora. The coaches have declined to give the details.
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Why can’t the public know how beholden these two public employees are to an outside contractor?
UNC spokesman Joel Curran explained it this way: “The university respects the privacy interests of its employees in their personal affairs.”
Their personal affairs? It’s doubtful that Nike would want to give Williams and Fedora lucrative contracts if they were not employed by the university. Williams, as a hall of fame coach, could merit pay from Nike on his own, but the shoe company primarily pays him and Fedora because they lead prominent UNC athletic programs. Their public roles and personal compensation from Nike are inextricable. That UNC chooses to pretend they are separate is not only illogical, it’s an affront to the public.
Making these side deals public isn’t simply a matter of satisfying curiosity about another dimension of the obscene pay given to those who profit from the labor of unpaid athletes. It’s a matter or protecting the integrity and reputation of a great university.
The hazards of shoe company money in college sports is now clear. Adidas is at the center of a FBI investigation into whether hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes were used to steer players to certain schools. An Adidas executive and four college assistant coaches were among 10 men charged last September. The probe is ongoing.
Does UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt need to be reminded of how letting the athletics department run as a closed shop can lead to trouble? UNC has gone through an NCAA investigation and years of negative publicity related to academic abuses that helped keep athletes eligible. Shouldn’t transparency now be the watchword of UNC athletics?
Dan Rascher, a sports economist at the University of San Francisco, told The N&O’s Chip Alexander that the need to be open about the coaches’ deals is obvious.
“Transparency is the big deal here,” he said. “Any lack of transparency ought to be remedied. You would think in light of what’s happened at UNC they would want to come forward with the contracts.”
You would think, but Folt and UNC’s board of trustees are not thinking. They’re also not leading. They’re accommodating coaches who apparently have the final word on how UNC conducts its athletics business.
A better approach
N.C. State doesn’t allow its coaches to have third-party deals. The $6.45 million it gets from a five-year deal with Adidas goes into the athletic department fund and helps pay Wolfpack men’s basketball coach Kevin Keatts and football coach Dave Doeren.
And before the surrender of administrators to top coaches at UNC, there was an expectation that third-party deals would be disclosed. When UNC agreed to a four-year, $4.7 million deal with Nike in 1993, former basketball coach Dean Smith received a $500,000 payment. Paul Hardin, then UNC’s chancellor, made the famed coach disclose details of the deal despite Smith’s objections.
At a public university – and really at any university – sneaker contracts ought not be sneaky. Ideally, UNC would not only require the disclosure of coaches’ shoe company contracts, but would ban such private deals altogether. It’s a simple step. As Nike says – just do it.
Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@ newsobserver.com