Nike at Illinois: looking at what’s left

Illinois’ Reilly O’Toole (4) carries the ball during the homecoming game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. The Illini won 28-24.

From basketballs to sweatbands, the University’s contract with Nike provides Illinois athletics with everything its athletes need.

With the everyday equipment also comes special uniforms that Nike provides to the teams. The most prominent special uniform that the athletic program has unveiled during the 2014-2015 school year was the “Grey Ghost” uniform for the football team.

The team released a video showing how excited the student-athletes were when former Illini quarterback Juice Williams walked into the team meeting room revealing the uniform. Illinois wore the uniform during its Homecoming game against Minnesota, generating a buzz around the program that was only magnified when the Illini defeated the Golden Gophers, 28-24.

The University’s agreement with Nike benefits the men’s basketball team. According to Kent Brown, associate director of athletics for media relations, the average cost for a court shoe is $87.50, but the pair cost ranges from $80 to $95. Each student-athlete initially receives at least two pairs, but the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics purchases more as each athlete wears their pairs down in competition and practice.

Some of the basketball shoes come at no cost to the University. When the athletic department has to order more than two pairs for certain players, Nike provides some pairs for free because Illinois is considered one of Nike’s Elite programs.

Nike has also provided the University teams with uniforms for charitable causes. During the volleyball season, the Illini wore pink jerseys during their match against Indiana on Oct. 24. The 18 jerseys were given to fans who bought them in a silent auction earlier in the season. During the annual Breast Cancer Awareness match, the Illini Networkers raised over $5,000 for the Mills Breast Cancer Institute at Carle Hospital in Urbana. Other sports, such as the women’s basketball team, also received pink jerseys to raise awareness for breast cancer.

So who is the winner in Nike’s contract with the University?

Student-athletes get thousands of dollars in free gear — everything from flip flops and backpacks to shoulder pads and helmets.

Coaches get a recruiting tool — flashy game uniforms with arguably the most recognizable apparel logo in sports. Athletic administrators get a bone to throw boosters — a clean color scheme and on-the-field image — as well as free apparel of their own.

Charities get a boost in donations with special jerseys — not to mention the awareness that a major collegiate athletic program can bring to a needy cause.

Fans get the opportunity to show their team spirit by donning new gear every year — a perfect birthday present for loyal fans of all ages.

And then there’s Nike, which gets extensive advertising across the University athletic campus as well as on the clothing, hats and shoes of every single Illinois student-athlete.

It all falls in the shadow of the swoosh, a symbol that carries as much value to the University as the Block I.

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