Trend or Tradition: The Uniform Debate
As with all things sports related, there are varied opinions on teams adopting new uniforms. While most fans seem to embrace adding updated, often trendy new uniform combinations there are certainly still traditionalists out there who cling to their team’s jerseys from decades past. Personally, I lie somewhere in the middle. I love the old Sparky helmets, but the newer pitchfork has grown on me and the addition of a little sparkle to helmets or the copper face mask options positively attracted my attention. Ideally, I want to see both new, exciting uniform combinations with some tradition sporadically added in the way of throwback jerseys. A perfect example is the Sun Devils uniforms vs Oregon a couple weeks ago. Although we certainly want to forget the outcome of the game and the refereeing, the uniforms are something to remember.
Drawing support for the honor to Pat Tillman and the military alone, this uniform combination is a winner in my mind. Add in the camouflage factor on most apparel and it’s a bonus for me. While my first reaction to a new look for the Sun Devils is always solely based upon whether or not I think it looks cool, I know it runs far deeper in importance to the ASU football program. College football uniforms play a deeper role than many uniform traditionalists may want to believe.
Take Oregon for example. The Ducks are well known for having many uniform combinations. While sometime criticized for the vast number or the craziness of the uniforms by opposing fans, I don’t see how this can be anything but positive for the program. New uniforms get people talking and that attention alone is great for any college football program. In addition, and what I view as the biggest asset to adding new uniform combinations, is the impact on players and recruits. Obviously any high school football player out there with hopes of a college career wants to play at a school with a good program. A winning program.
However, there is a secondary thing about a program that strikes quite important to that demographic. Looking a certain way on the field, be it tough or cool, legit or on fleek, or whatever the most current mainstream term is for the 16-22 year old crowd to express how great something is, certainly makes a difference. If a recruit has the option of playing in a program with a lot of hype about having cool, varied uniforms, I believe this has an impact. This is no different than people wanting to follow fashion trends. Generally speaking, people want to be in fashion and get complimented on their style. In my experience, this is especially true of the high school and college aged demographic who is often looking for acceptance and compliments from their peers.
Uniform tradition is great, and it works for some programs out there like Texas A&M, for example. But, in recent years, you even see teams with great tradition adding a new element to their look a la Notre Dame helmets with metallic sparkle and shine. So, as a whole, are uniforms shifting to trend over tradition. My opinion is yes, and I am completely behind it. After the unveiling of the ASU uniforms honoring Tillman, I engaged other Sun Devil alumni for their take on the uniform craze.
It seems, we can all agree that we see recruiting as the area new uniforms make the most impact. Ken Mulligan, an instructor at ASU and a 1975 Sun Devil grad, thinks players look at uniforms while choosing between programs. “Top players have their choice of schools to sign with, new uniforms and new combinations create an aura of invincibility,” Mulligan commented.
Brad Webb, a 2007 graduate from ASU also views new uniforms as a recruiting tool, he says, “I think new or special uniforms have the most impact on recruits, especially visiting ones.’ But, recruits are the only players donning the new uniforms, what about the current roster? “While the impact on recruits seems fairly obvious, I also think they impact current players in the sense of an additional spark and increased energy for the ‘look good, feel good’ state of mind,” said Webb. So, it seems we see the impact of uniforms on the guys taking the field, but is there any impact on the actual game? What about the fans in attendance?
While there is likely not any impact on the actual outcome of a game due to a new uniform, Mulligan suggests, in jest, “I noticed that teams which wear camouflage uniforms seem to have a harder time winning.” On the fans in the crowd, however, there may be more of a real impact. I remember when I saw the first new pitchfork helmet unveiled at a spring game a few years back, instantly loved it and was stoked my team would be wearing it.
Not only can the new uniforms excite fans, but also in some cases, where a different uniform combination is worn on field, the athletics department asks the fans to don a color other than the traditional home crowd gold. “I think the uniforms can impact the fans/crowd in attendance. Throwbacks can really hype up all fans; both those who remember watching the team in those uniforms ‘back in the day’ and younger fans or students who don’t remember them but love a good throwback uniform,” Webb commented, “then when you add in special themes for fans, such as blackouts, Maroon Monsoon, etc, it can create an electric atmosphere, when everyone participates.”
Richard Crews, a 2009 ASU graduate says he attends games wearing the traditional gold except when the athletic department requests another color. “I don’t mind special requests for fans,” Crews said, “But, the white out this season was just not well thought out.” Crews notes that in several cases, fans have been asked to don a color for a game that includes the opposing team’s primary colors citing the “Maroon Monsoon against USC or Blackout against Colorado/Mizzou.” Although that can be confusing, I have always looked at it differently. My thoughts are that if you ask ASU fans to wear black against Colorado and Colorado fans wear black, then the impact is even larger. Ideally the whole crowd matches. Webb thinks, “the requests are reasonable and fans should just support the program and the program’s requests for themes and stop complaining about what color the team and fans are wearing.” I could not agree more.
So, while it’s all based on opinion as to whether tradition or trend is the way to go with college football uniforms, the camouflage Tillman tribute uniforms seem a unanimous win with fans (with the outcome of the game against Oregon not so much). But, throwback and tribute uniforms seemingly have a place in the programs and when sporadically worn as I believe ASU has done, they add excitement for players, potential players and fans. As long as the Sun Devils don’t go University of Maryland on the uniform combinations, I’m all for both the excitement factor of new uniforms and the money the school brings in with sales of new, coordinating apparel.