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Is USC taking the first step in breaking away from Nike?

Yesterday USC signed a 10-year licensing deal with Silver Star Merchandise...The apparel company owend by Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones.

The agreement gives Silver Star Merchandising, "exclusive license to manufacture and distribute USC branded apparel and headwear in the mass, mid-tier, sporting goods, specialty and online retail channels," the announcement said. Nike remains the official outfitter of USC's teams.

"It is a perfect marriage," Athletic Director Pat Haden said in a statement. "When we were presented with the opportunity to partner with Silver Star Merchandising, it became clear to us that their expertise in the apparel business with a top brand like the Dallas Cowboys meant that they would represent and shepherd our USC brand in the same manner throughout Southern California and the United States."

USC's brand is one of the most recognizable in sports.

While no one will dispute that Nike knows how market a product, many in the USC fan base consider it a bitter pill to have Nike make money off one of the most successful programs in college sports only to see a good portion of that money donated to the University of Oregon to help build state of the art facilities, etc.

It may not be a big deal some, but it is a big deal to many USC fans. In my many years of buying USC fan apparel I always thought that Nike for the most part had the better designs. Some of the non-Nike USC apparel found on the USC Bookstore website I found to be lacking, and it is even worse on sports apparel sites like Football Fanatics. I found a number of those designs to be cheap and uninspiring.

The Nike license is still open so Nike will still be able to market USC fan apparel...but now given a choice I suspect that many USC fans will go with SSM products over Nike any day of the week.

The Dallas Cowboys, like the New York Yankees is one of the most recognizable brands in all of sports and Jerry Jones knows how to market his product. I can only imagine what his firm can and will do for USC.

USC keeping Nike in place as the outfitter of the team(s) keeps USC's options open. I have no problem with that. This takes away the monopoly that Nike has on fan gear, allowing USC to get the best deal to market their brand without the money generated possibly being used against them.

Obviously, we won't hear anyone out of Heritage Hall say that but if Pat Haden is the businessman that many say he is then its pretty clear that he would rather have a third party market USC's brand without a potential conflict of interest.

Call it a conspiracy theory, but appearance matters and many in the USC fan base don't want to give Nike any more money.

We all know that college sports is big business and USC is leveraging its brand while not allowing the money generated to be used against them...