Auburn has a shiny new apparel deal

One of the most unique apparel contracts in college over

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Big-time college programs don’t hit the athletic apparel free agency market very often. Unlike most coaching and vendor agreement, apparel contracts are often fairly long-term, and both sides usually have plenty of reasons to negotiate extensions before the term actually ends. It isn’t uncommon for a school to remain with a particular company for a decade, if not longer.

But last week, a big-time SEC program announced a significant, if expected, change.

Auburn is leaving Under Armour for Nike

After 18 years with UA, the Auburn Tigers announced a new, 10-year contract with Nike that will begin in 2025. Immediate financial terms of the contract were not announced.

Auburn has long been one of UA’s flagship college brands, but it isn’t shocking that Auburn decided to make a change. Most of Under Armour’s major college clients are no longer working with the company, either because Under Armour restructured the deal themselves, or because the schools simply opted to go elsewhere. Ex-UA institutions include schools like UCLA, Cal, Cincinnati and Texas Tech.

Given those defections, and the well-publicized decline of the company’s financial performance, one could be forgiven for thinking that Under Armour planned to simply exit the college space completely. But industry analysts have told me for years that Under Armour still wanted to be involved in college athletics, just not the way they were back in 2016. Notre Dame re-signed with Under Armour last year, and industry folks told me that Under Armour also made a run at adding Kansas State (who ended up re-signing with Nike). UA has also remained active in the smaller-college space.

One unique component to Auburn’s previous apparel contract was that Under Armour didn’t just give the school discounted equipment and some cash…they also gave Auburn stock. But unluckily for Auburn, their contract was signed right as UA stock hit an all-time high of over $54 bucks a share. The stock now trades for less than seven dollars.

It doesn’t look like Auburn has sold the stock yet, and it’s entirely possible that the shares could rebound at some point in the future. But there are reasons why athletic departments typically don’t take stock or equity as payment with their biggest vendors…it’s pretty risky!

For what it’s worth, there’s reason to be skeptical that which brand a school decides to work with actually matters that much.

Beyond the top 20ish or so schools, it is increasingly less likely that any of the three major partners will offer cash…the dollar figure you see in the headlines will refer to the value of merchandise. One research study suggested that schools don’t see any improved recruiting performance when they change athletic apparel partners. And while shoe companies were unquestionably a major factor in basketball recruiting over the last 20 years, their influence is declining now that collectives can throw their own financial weight around.

If you’re curious about when your school’s athletic apparel deal ends, or what sort of perks come with it, stay tuned. I’m hard at work trying to rebuild the Extra Points FOIA Directory, and hope to be able to share more specific details about it soon.

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West Florida is building something big

The University of West Florida football program quickly became one of the best in D-II. The team played their first games in 2016…and by 2019, they won a dang national title. Last season was a bit of a down year, (they went 8-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs), but they made the national semifinals in 2022, and have been a playoff mainstay nearly the entire time they’ve been playing football.

One of the fun quirks of UWF, besides the fact that they went from “expansion team” to “national powerhouse” in like, ten seconds, was that they played in a minor league baseball stadium. But in an effort to increase student attendance (and prevent additional scheduling conflicts), UWF moved their football games on campus in 2022.

Now, thanks in large part to a $9 million gift, that on-campus stadium is getting turned into a modern, 7,500 seat complex. The school reportedly will have their new stadium ready for 2028.

I am not saying that this stadium means that UWF is going to move up to D-I. I have not heard anything from any industry source that would make me think the school is seriously considering a reclassification in the near future.

But I am saying that D-II programs don’t get $9 million athletic gifts every day, and that UWF’s enrollment, location, football success and conference instability (West Georgia, one of their GSC peers, is moving to D-I) all fits the profile of the type of institution that might eventually consider a move up.

Even if they decide to stay at the D-II level forever…I have to admit. That looks like a pretty nice stadium. If UWF was tough to beat at home at a baseball field or tiny on-campus facility, I imagine they’ll have a nice home field advantage whenever that stadium is finished.

Not every Dartmouth basketball player wanted to unionize

Last month, the Dartmouth men’s basketball team formally voted to unionize. Dartmouth announced they will not bargain with the newly formed union, setting up a lengthy court battle that may not be completely resolved until most of the athletes who voted to unionize have graduated.

The final vote was 13-2. Presumably, one of those ‘no’ votes belonged to Connor Christensen, who wrote an editorial in the Dartmouth student newspaper explaining why he opposes unionization.

While basketball and football are revenue-driving sports for many teams in the NCAA, athletic programs at Dartmouth are not known for generating revenue. My team’s decision may, therefore, yield undesirable consequences if unionization becomes widespread.

As many have noted, non-revenue-producing sports programs at the College may be forced to reckon with program and budget cuts. Likewise, I fear that other Dartmouth teams may face unfair pressure to unionize to achieve uniformity at the College.

An additional concern is how Dartmouth will comply with Title IX if only one side of a sports program can collectively bargain with the College.

Ultimately, unions exist to protect people from being taken advantage of. I, however, do not feel exploited by Dartmouth.

I’m not sharing this to dunk on the guy, or to invite other people to dunk on him. There are, after all, perfectly legitimate reasons to be nervous about unintended consequences of athlete unionization.

I share this because I think it is a very important reminder of what I believe is regularly ignored or brushed aside by lawyers and some activists…organizing college athletes is very, very difficult. That’s not just some idle academic observation here…whether the next step in college athletics reform is revenue sharing, widespread employment status, or some hybrid…in the near future, there’s going to be some level of negotiation and bargaining. Somebody will need to sit on the other side of a desk and advocate for the interests of some group of athletes.

If those athletes are not organized, whoever is behind that desk is going to get their ass kicked by the schools, conferences, or whoever else they’re negotiating against.

One of the biggest obstacles to any organization plan, in my opinion, is going to be finding a good answer to this specific point that Connor raised. “I do not feel exploited by Dartmouth.”

That’s an argument rooted in personal experience. I do not think most college students will be persuaded by charts, graphics or talking points originating from far away law firms or newsrooms. If that argument is to be refuted, it will come from persuasion based on relationships and lived experiences. It will need to be done by athletes.

You don’t win a vote 13-2 without being effective at answering that objection. But any sort of solution at scale is going to require lots and lots and lots of other athletes being just as good.

And that isn’t inevitable.

Should college athletes pursue unionization?

Yes, I know this is a complicated question that is difficult to shove into binary poll options BUT

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