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Blame the Bats

Dawg Sports points to an Athens newspaper article blaming Nike for Georgia's CWS loss to Fresno State. (Blaming is probably too strong a word, as the article is couched in your standard good sportsmanship, Fresno State was of course the better team talk, but let's just say "concerns were raised.") FSU, an Easton school, was using technologically advanced composite bats, while Georgia, using Nike aluminum bats, was only getting warning track power in the larger Rosenblatt Stadium. The implication, of course, is that UNC sufferred from the same handicap, and while I don't buy it - neither of the two UNC-FSU games seemed to hinge on distance hitting - this quote is just fascinating:

Georgia's players were hoping that North Carolina, a fellow all-Nike school, would make the championship series because the bat would've been a non-factor, [Georgia third baseman Ryan] Peisel said. 

There's so much to unpack from that one sentence. First of all, if that's an accurate representation of what the Bulldogs were thinking at the time, they were halfway to losing the series before they took the field. Once you decide your opponents have magic bat powers, you're in a bit of a psychological hole.

The other fascinating point is that Georgia knew UNC's athletic gear provider. That seems to be a common skill in college athletics. We're constantly reading about future NBA stars picking their vacations in the NCAA on the basis of the shoe company a school has shacked up with, as said shoe company is the longest relationship the player has had in basketball. There are the worries that unregulated shoe-sponsored camps are shepherding kids in one direction or another based on the logo on their footwear. This boggles the mind a bit. I mean, I know UNC is under contract with Nike, because I was on campus for the third world labor protests of the nineties, and that when I go to buy some gear with the UNC logo, if it's overpriced (and I'm not in Santa Barbara) chances are it has a swoosh on it. And I know Oregon's a Nike school, because they're America's Test Kitchen for ugly uniforms. Beyond that, I really have no clue what's on which athlete's foot. But they all seem to know, in disturbing detail.

Finally, I'm interested to see how long the school-wide athletic sponsorship lasts and more and more strains such as this appear. And they are. The current debate over Speedo's new patented swimsuit technology looks to crash into the NCAAs next season. With a lot of fans already irritated by apparel decisions coming out of corporate headquarters and not campuses - most notably with the Carolina Blue Kentucky uniforms of the nineties - if they start to see the games controlled by technology and not by talent, things could get ugly.

After all, neither UNC or Georgia are the recipients of Nike's largess on the strength of their play on the diamond. And the campus-wide contract is a relatively new invention. UNC didn't sign their first until the mid-nineties, and even then the women's soccer was exempt until their Adidas contract expired in 2001. Carolina has the clout to push back against some of the stupider shoe requests - the nike lapel pin on caches seems to have fallen by the wayside at least - but anything that turns the tide away from the balkanization of schools by shoe company can only be a good thing.

(Or maybe I'm just bitter that my one intramural championship came at the height of the Nike era, and thus my championship T-shirt is generic advertising pap and not the classic everybody knows and loves. Stupid Nike.)