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Should Indiana go with a new apparel deal or stay with adidas?

The Apparel Argument

NCAA Basketball: Elon University at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana’s current contract with adidas is set to expire next summer, which means it’s just about time to revisit the age-old debate as to which major athletic company the Hoosiers should partner with.

Apparel contract negotiations can be as fickle as recruiting battles, making it hard to predict exactly how things might shake out in advance. Last time around, Michigan had just left adidas for Nike, helping Indiana land an extension that was twice as profitable as the prior agreement.

Now, Indiana is second only to Texas A&M in athletic department revenue among Adidas schools, almost $50 million more valuable than even Kansas. Jordan brand has also emerged as a player alongside its parent company, Nike, with its logo appearing on Michigan’s and North Carolina’s jerseys, among other schools.

There’s also the possibility that other major brands like Notre Dame - a free agent on the apparel market this year - start a trend that would better accommodate the NIL era. In an article for The Athletic, Andy Staples proposed an apparel deal similar to professional contracts, which allow individual players to negotiate for things like shoes and other individual equipment.

I like the idea behind this kind of deal, but it’s worth noting that college athletes have already reached NIL deals with brands that are in direct competition with their school’s official apparel providers.

Generally, I subscribe to the idea that the apparel deal should be whatever would be most beneficial to recruiting. By recent Indiana standards, things have arguably been better than ever under its most recent Adidas deal.

Tom Allen’s 2022 class was the first in two decades to be ranked in the top 30 nationally, per 24/7 sports. And Mike Woodson recruited his second straight top-10 haul this offseason.

As one of adidas’ most prominent brands, Indiana also gets preferential treatment from the Brand with the Three Stripes in the NIL department. The Hoosiers were the only men’s basketball program to have multiple players named as Adidas brand ambassadors this past season.

The current NIL rules prohibit brands from entering agreements with entire teams, but Adidas has done well to reach smaller deals with large portions of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, allowing fans to buy official uniforms with players’ names on the back.

Even before NIL, Indiana was rumored to have benefitted from its Adidas affiliation in the Romeo Langford recruitment. Adidas sponsored his father’s AAU team at the time, which led to speculation that it influenced his decision to attend Indiana and the inclusion of Kansas in his final three schools.

That said, Nike was still the most popular apparel brand among men’s tournament teams last year with twice as many schools in the field of 68 as second-place Adidas. Add in the four schools sponsored by Jordan Brand, and the swoosh accounted for 40 teams - nearly 60% of the tournament.

In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I am something of a sneakerhead myself, and by last count, my Nike collection outnumbers my adidas collection by an eight to one ratio. Still, guys like Jakai Newton have also expressed a preference for Nike/Jordan, saying his favorite shoe to play in is the Jordan 11 in his Day in the Life Youtube Series.

Ultimately, Indiana has been able to recruit at a high level over the past few seasons with adidas, so there’s no need to panic if the Hoosiers do simply extend their deal. Mike Woodson and Teri Moren in particular have proven that the current apparel deal is not an obstacle to attracting elite talent to Bloomington.

My only hope is that next summer’s negotiations emphasize a continuation of this recruiting success, whether that means switching brands, getting priority treatment from the brand, or signing a flexible contract.

Beyond observing Nike’s success in the last men’s basketball tournament, trying to guess what is most popular with high school kids seems like an exercise in futility.

Instead, I will leave it up to the coaching staffs who interact with these kids to lobby for whatever they think will give them the biggest advantage and hope Scott Dolson listens. For now, all we can do is keep an eye on things like the Notre Dame negotiation to understand what the landscape might be.