Hightower: College Sports For Sale

It's the holidays, and that means: A gluttony of college football games! Ah, the pageantry, the tradition -- the crass corporate commercialism. There's the FedEx Bowl, the Toyota Bowl, the Outback Steakhouse Bowl, and other greats, featuring classic match-ups like East Jesus Tech versus Southwestern Cosmetology -- Go Cosmos! But, it's not just bowl games that have sold out to the highest corporate bidder -- our public colleges are now selling their entire athletic programs to advertisers eager to score points by attaching their brand names to popular teams. The University of Maryland basketball team, for example, is now officially "sponsored" by Toyota; and Ohio State's basketball arena was renamed Value City arena, after the Retail Chain donated $12 million and -- well, bought the place. But the big buyers of college athletics are shoe companies. Reebok has UCLA and Texas; Converse has Arkansas and Minnesota; Nike has Michigan, Miami, and many others. Nike pays Michigan University about a million a year, for example, and in turn the multibillion-dollar shoe hawker gets its named plastered all over U of M's sports facilities -- it gets to redesign the college's logo and use it in ads; Michigan coaches have to make promotional appearances for Nike; and the basketball team has to play in a Nike-sponsored tournament. Also, instead of emphasizing the old college ties, players and coaches are becoming human billboards for their corporate sponsor. Florida State players, for example, have to wear the Nike logo on their jerseys, shoes, wristbands, and gloves, and their coaches sport it on their caps, shirts, and jackets. Is it Florida State -- or Nike State? Better check the fine-print in that contract.

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