Could the 16-Team Nike Event Signal a Shift in Scheduling Patterns?

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 17th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

While Michigan State has found on-court success under the steady hand of coach Tom Izzo, his athletic director Mark Hollis has embraced progressive scheduling tactics that have granted the Spartans access to some of the nation’s most unique events. Last year, Hollis set the standard for inventive hosting sites by spearheading the plans for Michigan State’s game against North Carolina aboard the active warship USS Carl Vinson. The sensational vistas and patriotic atmosphere made the Carrier Classic an unmitigated success. Three similar events next season – on the same day, no less – have been scheduled since, with each taking place on a different U.S. Naval ship; a three-fold amplification of college hoops nationalism, all thanks to Hollis’ trailblazing work. He one-upped himself earlier this year by reaching an agreement for MSU to play Connecticut in a 2012-13 season-opening event at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, an active U.S. forces garrison and NATO site. Hollis’ next endeavor was a historical tribute to the 1963 Mississippi State-Loyola (Chicago) NCAA Tournament game that took place against the wishes of Mississippi’s segregationist governor, which he accomplished by initially offering a neutral site on the MSU campus, then helping to arrange a two-year home-and-home series between the two schools.

The 16-team event will honor the 80th birthday of Nike co-founder Phil Knight (Photo credit: Steve Dipaola/Reuters).

The creative AD has now set his sights on another commemorative event, this one far more inclusive than any of his recent scheduling novelties. According to ESPN’s Andy Katz, Hollis has received confirmation from 16 schools on a dual-pronged mega-tournament honoring the 80th birthday of Nike chairman Phil Knight. The event is tentatively scheduled for a four-day period in November 2017, with two separate fixtures (The Rose Garden and Veterans Memorial Coliseum) featuring an eight-team fields. Hollis selected 16 Nike-sponsored schools he feels represents “all of college basketball’s power conferences.” With multiple participants from each league, the two-tournament format prevents a violation of NCAA protocol prohibiting conference opponents from playing in the same event. The 16 teams are participating on behalf of their own programs in an effort to pay homage to Knight and his illustrious résumé. Neither Nike nor Knight will be involved in staging the festivities.

In what figures to be one of the most highly-anticipated events on the early college hoops calendar, Hollis didn’t sell himself short on competitive intrigue: Kentucky, Georgetown, North Carolina and Duke are among the teams represented. All in all, the field features a tantalizing coterie of bluebloods and emerging powers. It’s an unprecedented assembly of national brand-name programs capable of reaching new levels of early-season college hoops hype. Fans, players and coaches will appreciate the November competitive rush as a change of pace to the customary cupcake-laden early non-league competition, fans will relish seeing the nation’s top programs battle it out on such a grand stage and the sport as a whole should capture at least a small measure of the mid-fall national sports consciousness customarily reserved for college football and the NFL.

The match-ups between historic programs and brand name coaches should be extremely compelling, but perhaps the most interesting part of Hollis’ grand experiment is the larger repercussions of the event and the ways in which it will impact future non-conference scheduling plans. For as much as Hollis claims that Nike had no direct ties to the scheduled tournament, the main selective criteria – namely, that each team is sponsored by Nike – means the company, whether directly or indirectly, factored largely into its constitutive framework. Besides the obvious motivation to honor Knight and his multi-billion dollar enterprise, the tournament provides a landmark gathering of college hoops’ best teams to celebrate its outsized influence — Nike holds a 95 percent market share in the basketball shoe market, according to The Oregonian — of “the swoosh” and all it entails. Nike’s fingerprints are all over this cutting-edge event, even if Hollis can’t admit as much directly.

Corporate entities have already imposed themselves in the highly-competitive world of grassroots and AAU basketball, with top-tier recruits often landing at schools based on their alignment with shoe companies.  This latest event raises the prospect of shoe companies – rather than competitive balance, longstanding rivalries, or location – dictating non-conference scheduling patterns. With Nike seizing the early college hoops spotlight (if the plans don’t fall through in the intervening years), it only stands to reason that other prominent shoe companies will push for similar events with their representative teams. Tournaments could be organized strictly with respect to corporate association, and we could see a radical shift in the college hoops scheduling landscape where, say, adidas, Under Armour and, first and foremost, Nike, stage events exclusively for member programs. If this sort of business-oriented approach takes root, it could signal the end of other marquee non-conference events like the Legends Classic, Maui Invitational and the Battle 4 Atlantis. It’s awfully premature to forecast such drastic change to a largely stagnant system, though. It may take years before the corporate world could fully wrap its hands around the collective college hoops scheduling psyche. But Hollis’ brainchild may ultimately spark a quasi-revolution in how teams approach their non-league slates. He turned U.S. Naval ships into unique and totally in vogue game setting; now Hollis may have opened the door for previously unseen degree of corporate influence over scheduling.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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