Defensive lineman Arik Armstead chose Oregon last year over USC. / Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports
A year ago, defensive lineman Arik Armstead signed with Oregon. Previously, he'd been committed to Southern California.
Reflecting recently, Armstead said his choice was a complicated process involving multiple variables. He wanted to play football and basketball in college. His older brother, already a Trojan, was transferring.
Fashion was not considered.
"When it comes to recruiting, I don't think a kid is going to‚?¶," he began. "Well, I can't speak for anybody else, but I know I didn't make the decision to come to Oregon just because I could get some shoes or look good."
Yet, on Jan. 10, Armstead sent out the following message via Twitter:
"What's on yall feet? Perks of being a Oregon athlete."
Enclosed was a photo of a special edition of Nike's Air Jordan 4s in green, yellow and white. On the shoe's tongue, there is an "O," and Michael Jordan's famous "Jumpman" logo has been replaced by a cartoon Duck - UO's mascot - in the same silhouette.
They're incredibly rare, not for sale and made only for Oregon basketball players; during the fall, the football team received a similar version but in a different color. The Jordan brand itself and such exclusivity has helped fuel the so-called "sneakerhead" craze, so when celebrity athletes such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are photographed in these shoes, demand shoots through the roof.
"Anything limited edition, the collectors will go nuts," said Matt Powell, footwear and apparel analyst at SportsOne Source. "They're highly valuable to the collectors."
So if an 18-, 19-year-old prospect is being recruited, and just happens to be into sneakers, as a lot of his peers are, and the only way to obtain a pair of these coveted kicks is to be a Duck, that's quite an advantage.
A legal advantage, too.
"NCAA rules allow for a school to provide a special edition shoe, for example, as a part of its athletics apparel," said Stacey Osburn, NCAA spokesperson. "As to whether it should be regulated, that would be up to our member schools to decide as they create the rules."
Oregon senior associate athletic director Craig Pintens said members of the football team don't technically own the sneakers. They sign them out over the weekend of games - it's considered a travel shoe. This is done in part to prevent re-sale and eligibility concerns.
Last year was the first time Nike and Oregon produced the Jordans. In a recent interview with Sole Collector magazine, designer Tinker Hatfield said about 300 pairs total were made last year. This year is much lower - the student cheering section at Knight Arena, dubbed the "Pit Crew," received the shoes in 2012, but when Hatfield saw pairs on eBay immediately asking for as much as $6,000, he shut down distribution and cut the students out of future plans.
"The exposure of the special-edition Jordans gets a lot of recognition," said Pintens.
But enough to prompt a pledge on Signing Day?
"There have been crazier reasons for kids choosing schools," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
He recalled one kid choosing a school by flipping a coin. Another recruit settled on a university because of the availability of his favorite number - some numbers are iconic at certain schools. And then there was the high schooler who selected his college based on looking good in blue.
"But those are very rare examples of kids choosing schools for the very wrong reasons," Farrell added.
In Armstead's case, his choice wasn't rare and it wasn't wrong. He's happy in Eugene -- and the reasons are more than cosmetic.
"I'm sure other recruits and other people look at Oregon and things we're doing to recruit, the gear and whatever, but once they find out about the school, they like it for different reasons," he said. "I don't know if (the Jordans) would be a determining factor, but it's definitely a cool, unique thing that this program has that you can't find anywhere else.
"But I don't think it's a defining factor."
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Read the original story: Can fashion perks really affect recruits' Signing Day choice?