Mike Check: Top recruit flips commitment because of Nike?

Antonio Blakeney is a top prep basketball player from Orlando. He committed to Louisville (my alma mater) less than two weeks ago. Blakeney de-committed from Louisville this week because, according to 247Sports recruiting guru Jerry Meyer, Blakeney’s inner-circle doesn’t like Louisville’s shoes.

I’m sure the Cardinals have fine shoes that Blakeney would consider adequate for basketball. But the problem is the Cardinals don’t wear Nikes. Blakeney’s “infrastructure of people,” as Meyer describes it, prefers Nike and so Blakeney was pressured to reconsider his commitment.

I'm not making this up. I wish I were, and not because it involves the Cardinals—trust me, I long ago stopped worrying about recruits until they show up on campus. It's just another level of a corrupt system in which everyone is getting paid except the athletes who generate revenue.

Nike sponsors AAU clubs that travel around the country playing games, including Blakeney’s Each1Teach1 team. Nike controls the most prestigious prep all-star games, where the best players get the most exposure and cachet. So according to Meyer Blakeney’s “infrastructure of people,” which presumably includes people who also get something out of him sticking with Nike, wants him to go to a Nike school.

"Say there's a kid in the neighborhood who's a great flute player, and people helped drive the kid to flute lessons and gave him money to help him buy a flute…There's an infrastructure, a support system that helps make it happen. Say the flute player wants to go to one college, but the people who invested time and effort and money to help this person prefer somewhere else. What's the difference between that and basketball recruiting?"

Perhaps Meyer is so insulated within the recruiting world that he actually believes this. Or maybe it’s just not smart business for a recruiting guru to throw shade on the company that has so much influence in his sphere.

So let me explain the difference for Meyer.

The people who drive a kid to flute lessons do so because they are friends and family who want the kid's life to be enriched by playing the flute. There is no expectation that the kid will one day make millions of dollars playing the flute. The people drive the kid to lessons because they care about the kid, and if that kid decides not to play the flute anymore then that’s OK.

Nike, on the other hand, is a business that sways kids to choose a school that wears its shoes so Nike's lucrative relationship with those schools is more valuable. Nike "helps" top basketball players because it expects those players will one day become marketable professionals (it's a safe bet) who then will sign an endorsement deal with Nike.  If the kid decides to play for a school that doesn't wear Nikes, then that's not OK, and Nike is no longer interested in showcasing that player.

That’s not a support system. That’s a business investment.

247Sports reports that Blakeney will now visit Kentucky, LSU, Oregon and Missouri. You will be shocked to learn they are all Nike schools.

All reports indicate that Blakeney is “in love” with Louisville, as Meyer says. Maybe he ends up going there anyway. But first, Blakeney’s “infrastructure of people” will try to persuade him that a Nike school is the best choice. And perhaps a school other than Louisville is a better choice for Blakeney for reasons other than shoe brand.

I hope all works out well for Blakeney wherever he lands. I just wish he could just get paid directly by Nike and whichever school wants to hire him. I wish even more that Blakeney didn't have to bother with the NCAA’s exploitive, collusive system at all and become a professional as soon as someone wants to pay him.

After all, that's what Meyer's hypothetical flute player could do.