The New Year brings news from the cash-choked world of college sports. On Jan. 14, Nike tacked another 15 years and $252 million onto its contract with Ohio State—college sports' fourth new shoe-and-apparel record deal in less than two years. And, three days prior, in an event that lends itself to a most poetic headline (left), Under Armour announced a contract with Yale that a source puts at $16.5 million over 10 years. That's more annually than Illinois and Rutgers of the Big Ten make from their deals with Nike.
The Bulldogs have not been to the NCAA basketball tournament since 1962, do not play football in the FBS and are rarely on TV. So what's the appeal? Yale is globally recognized in a way that Under Armour aspires to be. Its alumni have influence, and by fielding 35 sports, the school offers an R&D lab for new products. And the company can buff its brand by associating with a university founded in 1701.
Some $2.5 million of the deal is said to be earmarked for "marketing activation," such as commercials on telecasts. Under Armour will also offer internships for undergraduates, not just athletes—a rare instance of shoe-company largesse extending beyond the athletic department.
It's a deal that could become the norm for Ivy League schools, but it also underscores an old tension. College sports sees its mission as higher education, except when it sees its mission as making money. Time will tell whether Yale is honorably pursuing both.