Tuesday, May 27, 2008

air big brown?

(Joshua Masayoshi Huff)

Big Brown is going to be running at the Belmont Stakes in two weeks to try and complete the Triple Crown. All I know about horse racing is the following:

The horses are three year old males that only run on the highest level for one year
The Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and the Belmont Stakes (in that order)
Belmont is the longest of the three courses

With that being said, I also know we've seen many horses going for the Triple Crown in the past couple of years (Smarty Jones and Funny Cide come to mind). Many people have said that this year's Preakness had a weak field and that though Big Brown is the favorite to the Belmont and complete the Triple Crown, some horses run only in the Belmont in order to act as spoilers to take advantage of the horses who have run in the other races. (Seriously, though--I can recuperate from a two mile run in three weeks)

This isn't what matters, though. The Onion had a great piece on Nike sponsoring Big Brown (yes, we're fully aware that the Onion is a parody newspaper). However, as usual, they're on to something.

Much has been said of Phil Knight's involvement in collegiate sports--especially at his alma mater, the University of Oregon. Yes, he has made the locker rooms at Oregon's Autzen Stadium great, but he is also noted for playing politics via his large donations to the school's athletics programs.

his is nothing new--rich alumni paid for June Jones' hiring at SMU, but Knight's meddling goes much further than that. He got Oregon's track coach fired because the two butted heads (if you recall, it was Knight who talked then Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman to use his homemade waffle running shoes), and Oregon's athletic director said that he would "probably talk to Phil Knight before making any hirings".

Knight's donation of $100 million this year paid for improvements to the school's athletics facilities and is going to fund the school's new basketball arena (though their current arena, McArthurt Court, is great--it is said that the baskets, which descend from the ceiling, shake when the crowd is trying to distract opponents taking free throws). However, his donation also brought back baseball (at his request) and forced wrestling to be dropped.

The point? It'd be trite, cliche and naive to say that "big money is bad"--because it isn't. However, Oregon needs to remember that it is a state university (unlike SMU) and that it cannot let donors run it. It has an identity--but, with their terrible uniforms, it seems more like a testing ground for new Nike products. We all know that I am a Nike apologist, but this is going too far.

The company does branding better than any other. The Swoosh is ubiquitous as the Coke logo. And, Nike has turned Michael Jordan into a man identifiable by a picture. Yes, it's cool to have your own logo, but at what point does this mean losing one's identity and becoming a complete consumer product?

Think about it, Oregon. You've been struggling athletically for awhile (apart from glimmers of hope this past year, until Dennis Dixon went down). Do you want to be a great athletic institution or do you want to be viewed as Nike U?