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Robert Morris Wears Motivational Apparel

Thursday, 19 Mar 2009 | 3:40 PM ET

It’s the ultimate underdog story.

An upstart clothing company sees the only basketball team in Division I that wears its products, make it to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s the reality for Pat Cavanaugh, a former University of Pittsburgh basketball player, whose company CRONS makes the jerseys for Robert Morris University, a team that hasn’t played in the Big Dance since 1992.

It’s not the normal apparel maker-school relationship. For one, Robert Morris pays for its jerseys – albeit at a heavy discount. And CRONS can’t really be compared to the big boys.

CRONS stands for “Come Ready Or Never Start.”

“We don’t say we’re an apparel brand,” says Cavanaugh, whose main business is a robust promotional products company. “We’re a motivational brand. We help people get better.”

CRONS turns a moisture-wicking piece of material into a motivational statement by putting inspirational statements on the inside of various pieces of the uniform. The words are printed upside down so that the players can read them.

Tomorrow, the Colonials – a 16 ½-point underdog – will be wearing their CRONS apparel with three messages on it.

The tag on the bottom front of the jersey says: “That guy working harder than you, that’s me.”

The tag on the inside of the shorts by the drawstring says: “Come Ready Or Never Start.”

The tag on the inside of the neck tape says: “Ignore the noise.”

Cavanaugh says business has been good.

The downturn has actually helped since he says his products could cost 40 percent less than what his competitors offer. Sales to about 300 high schools and college teams were up by 250 percent in 2008.

Now, with Robert Morris in the tournament, Cavanaugh has his eyes on inking deals with other Division I teams.

Years ago, Cavanaugh wouldn’t have been able to make a dent in the college roster due to the huge fees the shoe and apparel makers were paying colleges. But he says the business is changing so much that some of the smaller budget schools that might have been paid before are now willing to do deals in exchange for product.

But it all starts with getting on the grand stage first. Cavanaugh and CRONS will get that with prime time billing for the No. 15-seed Robert Morris against the No. 2-seed Michigan State at 9:50 pm ET on Friday night.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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