Sonny Vaccaro is the Godfather of sneaker deals and often blamed as the person who stole the innocence of AAU basketball and turned it into a high stakes, profit making meat market for the exploitation of inner-city kids. Vaccaro, pioneered the modern college sports-apparel business by paying coaches to use the Nike brand.
In light of the recent NCAA scandal, however, Vaccaro has once again come out blasting the NCAA for the way it handles its business, which never seems to be in favor of the kids and parents, but protects and feeds a system of exploitation that protects the folks who are really screwing up the sport. The coaches surely get rich and some even forget their morals and true path along the way. Just ask Rick Pitino.
Vaccaro was very passionate about his feelings in an ESPN interview with Bob Ley.
It’s a soulless, mindless operation…none of these people will stand up & call it what it is” Sonny Vaccaro doesn’t mince words about NCAA https://t.co/aCnBVtKGzg
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Craig Meyer spoke with Vaccaro last week, before Sonny’s NCAA tongue-lashing and explains how the Sir Hiram Maxim of amateur hoops has seen his creation morph into an ugly world of greed, exploitation and unaccountability with various levels of impropriety and coercion and illegal financial transactions involving a network of people complicit in schemes of acquiring young athletes to help fill the university coffers and the pockets of all of the middle men.
When the FBI revealed this week what many inside college basketball had long talked about that shoe company employees, financial advisers and a cast of other characters bribed coaches and players families in an attempt to gain influence high-profile figures across the sport did just as much.
NCAA president Mark Emmert said the nature of the charges was deeply disturbing. Conference commissioners like John Swofford (ACC), Larry Scott (Pac-12) and Greg Sankey (SEC) turned to words such as alarming, reprehensible, and troubling. For Rick Pitino, the Louisville coach whose program was implicated, the investigation came as a complete shock. One day later, he was effectively fired.
To Sonny Vaccaro, one of the most prominent and influential figures in basketball history, there also was a level of surprise. A former sport marketing executive, Vaccaro had been around the game long enough to know about some of its more unseemly elements and the scandals they birth.
The scope of the investigation and the FBIs involvement, however, was unlike anything he had ever seen.
You had the shoe companies, the university, the head of the shoe company, the head coach of the basketball team, the financial advisers, the regular agents, the kids and the parents, all in one corner, Vaccaro, a Trafford native, said in a phone interview. It was like they were all going to a birthday party and ended up in this kids house. These people were all there at one time. Ive never seen all the elements connected to an individual like in this particular case.
To sneaker legend Sonny Vaccaro, the FBI investigation reveals ‘the fallacy of what the NCAA has been perpetrating’ https://t.co/6Ry0YHWAC8
Though Vaccaro retired from the shoe business a decade ago, his perspective on the matter is very much relevant. It was he, after all, who first forged the relationship between basketball programs and shoe companies, one that later metastasized into the ugly charges revealed Tuesday.
While working as a high school teacher and coach in his hometown, Vaccaro became heavily involved in grassroots basketball and established valuable relationships with college basketballs top coaches. When he signed with Nike, then a smaller company primarily focused on running shoes, as a consultant in 1977 for $500 a month, he proposed an idea to his bosses that would turn his proximity to those coaches into something tangible. Nike paid thousands of dollars to those coaches, who werent making nearly as much at the time, for their teams to wear Nike shoes and, later, apparel and uniforms.
As the years wore on, the values of those contracts swelled (last year, for example, UCLA and Under Armour agreed to a 15-year, $280 million deal that was the largest shoe and apparel sponsorship in college sports history). With that and with the emergence of camps sponsored by the various shoe companies for elite recruits, Vaccaro had fundamentally altered the landscape of amateur basketball.
Still, he said he never envisioned that environment getting poisoned to the point where federal investigators and the Department of Justice got involved. Initially, he and others at shoe companies wanted top prospects to attend their camps or attend one of their sponsored schools, but there never was money attached to those wishes.
Legendary Sonny Vaccaro changed the landscape of club/travel/grassroots basketball. From the ABCD camps to bringing Michael Jordan and Nike together for a long lasting marriage Vaccaro is the one person people point to when the they talk about the genesis of big time basketball, big time players and big time money in youth basketball.
Once referred to as the sneaker whisperer and the mastermind behind the changing landscape and incredible rise of the amateur basketball hustle, Adidas rise back to relevance and Nikes stronghold in collegiate athletics, Vaccaro has been increasingly vocal in recent years after remaining silent for a long time. These days he sits back and says, Ive created a monster.
He’s against it now, but the NCAA continues to feed the beast.