how far will Nike let swoosh sweep rebranded Beavers

This Oregon State rebranding project is all double top secret stuff. Staffers in the athletic department have been instructed that the Beavers’ new look needs to be kept private until it’s unveiled Monday. But it’s who is doing the instructing that caught my attention.

“Nike wanted this quiet,” one high ranking OSU staffer said.

That’s big news. Not that the uniforms, logos and helmets should be kept under wraps. But that Nike is now driving the bus in Corvallis. cheap nfl jerseys Because having Phil Knight’s sneaker company back the Beavers in a more meaningful way ends up a brilliant development. And the only real question is how far Nike will go to make Oregon State matter.

The staffer told me we may not know that answer for months. Also, that the athletic department is buying in. Still, he wondered, “If you take your kid to a babysitter and the sitter spends all their time taking care of their own kid, wouldn’t you be concerned?”

Fair point. But if there’s only one experienced baby sitter available, and said sitter can help you consistently reach a Bowl Championship Series game, you take your chances.

There’s some fun tension in the run up to next week’s announcement, and OSU is going to get an uptick in interest, no doubt. But the debate right now isn’t whether the helmets will look retro or futuristic, but whether Knight’s company is committed or just dabbling with the Oregon Ducks’ in state rivals. Because Nike is either going to help Oregon State appear more credible and fun on the field with some uniforms, or it’s going to elevate the entire athletic department in a way that will change everything.

Are we talking about planting a Swoosh on the front lawn at OSU, or just featuring the Ducks’ hand me down products?

The new line of OSU helmets, are “insanely cool,” according to a Beavers football staffer who got a peek. A bunch of people will be satisfied knowing that detail, and nothing more. I’m told the various helmets are both retro and futuristic. Also, I’m assured the new helmets look nothing like the one in the picture floating around Twitter that had the giant Beavers logo on the side. But seeing a helmet style, or even a jersey and shoes with new technology ends up as noise in a conversation that deserves clarity.

Bottom line: Nike wants to keep Under Armour out of its backyard. This is an apparel company war that picked up two years ago. Under Armour, whose flagship program is Maryland, would love nothing more than to become “Uncle Under Armour” to the Beavers. But OSU was too smart to get sucked into a territory war, especially with all that Nike and Knight have quietly done to help the Beavers over the years. The Beavers signed an eight year deal with Nike to outfit all its athletic teams, and now, the Beavers find themselves as one of only four programs nationally that will participate in an official Nike driven roll out.

The retro look is a way to hold onto the old Oregon State world but make no mistake, they’re on the Nike bus.

“We’re trying to get in the game a little bit,” OSU athletic director Bob De Carolis said. “We haven’t beat our chest and told people about it, but we’re doing a lot of testing for (Nike) and have been doing it for a while. You’ve got the best sports marketing company in the world 80 miles from your doorstep, why wouldn’t you want to build on that?”

Oregon State has been doing some good things. It opened its Student Success Center last fall, with a floor in the academic center dedicated to athletes. The basketball practice facility opens in the fall, there are plans to renovate parts of Reser Stadium and Gill Coliseum. Also, plans to give Mike Riley’s football program and Pat Casey’s baseball program new locker rooms. But none of this ends up as critical as knowing whether Nike really is getting solidly behind Oregon State.

To this point, it’s been small things between Oregon State and Nike. Subtle things. Some, laced with semantics. In fact, when Reser Stadium was expanded I was shown a map of the stadium’s new luxury suites and told by a proud OSU fundraiser that Knight had purchased one. This was big news given that his public support of college athletics had typically been reserved for the program in Eugene. A few hours later, someone else in the OSU athletic department called and said the university wanted to clarify it was Nike, not Knight, that had made the commitment.

OSU has always handled its relationship with Nike delicately. Which is why this grand rebranding feels like fresh air.

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