From The General to Bobby The Billboard

Updated: January 13, 2004, 10:19 AM ET
By Ray Ratto | Special to ESPN.com

Bob Knight has always been a bit fashion-conscious (red sweaters, black sweaters, golf shirts, hunting clothes -- he runs the gamut), so I guess we shouldn't be surprised at his latest baby step toward haute couture.

After all, we hear that this O'Reilly guy gives great transmission.

Knight, the head coach at Texas Tech, is now sporting attire during games that has, in addition to the usual apparel axis logo (Nike/adidas/U.S. Keds), a brief ad for O'Reilly's Auto Parts of Lubbock.

Now we don't want to get into the kind of service O'Reilly provides for the basketball program, because we're not clear on how wholesale pricing on wheel alignments affects the NCAA's rules on commercialism.

All we know is, this is the boldest advertising move since Chico's Bail Bonds advertised on the uniforms of the Bad News Bears in the original (and only watchable) movie of the Bad News Bears triology.

O'Reilly now nuzzles up against Phil Knight and the entire $200 sneaker/$500 sweat suit Mafia, armed with only a wrench, greasy overalls and a look that says, "With a full brake job, $749."

As we know, NASCAR long ago embraced the any-ad-as-long-as-it's-paid-for policy, because NASCAR understood instinctively that there's no such thing as bad money.

But college basketball, in particular, had restricted its advertising money jones to inanimate objects, with the singular exception of the companies that outfitted the players and coaches.

No more. Knight has broken the mold, and has opened the rest of his body to other opportunities, like:

  • Muther's Café and Grill around his collar, and Flame-N-Pepper Tex-Mex Bar, Grill and Cantina ("The Hotta, The Betta") across his stomach.

  • Ranch Hand Truck Accessories ("Made Right Here In Texas") down the sleeve.

  • Coyote Candle Co. down the other sleeve.

  • Main Street Mercantile down his pants leg.

  • Stars And Stripes ("Lubbock's NEW Drive-In Movie Theatre") down the other leg.

    Now, maybe this is a bit too busy a look for the head coach -- I mean, how do you keep a player's attention when there's an ad for Pecan Ridge ("We Have Pecans Years Round") on the collar of your shirt?

    Solution: He's got assistant coaches, doesn't he? You know, to cover varying levels of donations. The more you pay, the better your play -- the graduate assistant costs $1,000, the head coach $10,000.

    And any good basketball program has lots of support staff. I mean, why can't Knight's trainers become human ads for Lubbock Urology, Lubbock Artificial Limb and Brace Inc., or just plain Lubbock Rite-Aid?

    Exactly. There isn't enough Knight to go around for a growing city like Lubbock, and you never want to shut out any potential donor, be it Kenny's Korral, Redbud Baptist Church, or Ellis Gun Shak.

    And it needn't stop with Knight. Consider the possibilities with Rick Majerus, a man whose sweater alone could bring in a cool half-million a year at Utah. Paul Hewitt for the Varsity Drive-In. Jim Boeheim for Lenscrafters. Billy Donovan for Pert ("For The Hair You Love To Bounce Quarters Off Of"). The possibilities are endless, as long as you pay up front.

    And it needn't stop with coaches and staff, either. You don't think Chico didn't do land-office business with Tatum O'Neal's back? We'll bet the NCAA already has separate committees for players' lapels, players' backs and players' behinds. And God only knows what awaits the cheerleaders, who already happily wear tattoos with the team's logo on their faces.

    This is no Pandora's Box argument, either. The NCAA long ago established what it is, and the going rates therein. We're not arguing right or wrong, dignified or shameful.

    Besides, we hear O'Reilly sells an outstanding variety of hub caps. Good on him, good on his father. You go, O'Reilly.

    We're just trying to prove a heads-up for the rest of you. If you see your coach on the sidelines, don't be surprised if he (or she: Pat Summitt knows how to work a buck just as well) is working an official while wearing a Der Wienerschnitzel hot dog hat, a sweater with the legend "Cleaned By Ed's Martinizing," or, well, by Chico's Bail Bonds.

    After all, some programs have different advertising needs than others.

    Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com

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