Bold, flashy uniforms are the latest craze to attract recruits (cont.)
Walker Jones, Under Armour's director of sports marketing, says since black isn't a traditional school color, it fits well as an add-in for a wide range of programs. Plus, black looks sharp on television and sells merchandise -- blackouts, for example, entice jersey sales. "Everybody is looking for a recruiting advantage with their uniform," Jones says. "We try to walk that fine line of giving them an alternative look and tying back to history."
But when tradition equals a muddled duck pond of failed jersey attempts, schools open up the possibility of going innovative. The University of Oregon created the first major uniform buzz in college football in 1998 by unveiling a vivid color scheme and dropping the Donald Duck-like logo in favor of the stylized "O" under the watch of athletic director Bill Moos and Bellotti, who credits a mix-and-match look at the University of Miami with jumpstarting Oregon's culture-shocking work. Then Oregon continued uniform ingenuity for a decade, backing it up with on-field wins.
The attention grabbing worked. "It was all about recruiting," says Moos, now the athletic director at Washington State. "A young person wasn't going to get revved up about putting on a jersey with Donald Duck." Oregon didn't stop, using Nike's excitement and athlete participation to switch up the look every couple of years, creating new buzz in the fashion-conscious world of the youth, the same group they were recruiting.
Moos took those ideas to Washington State and made it a top priority when he got there in 2010. Moos wanted to "honor the past, live the present and create the future" so he built a uniform "that appeals to that 17-year-old high school football player."
To compliment the cougar head leaping from Washington State's logo Moos wanted the perfect crimson. With a smattering of color swatches littering his desk, Moos couldn't find that right match. That was, until he took a physical and realized the color of his blood worked well. "I played here, my parents are graduates," he says. "I've been a Cougar since I was old enough to know what one was." Right at the end of his in-office physical, the nurse took a syringe of Moos' blood for testing. "I opened the drawer, got out the swatches and matched it. 69W at Nike is the color we chose: A crimson matching with the blood of a Cougar."
Along with a fresh crimson, Washington State enhanced its gray. With 27 different gameday combinations, the school has pants, shirts and helmets for every occasion. And what about being one of the few schools not to add in black? Their ampersand gray -- an alternative and deeply dark gray -- should suffice.
"The student-athletes are just beside themselves. We have alternative looks. We can mix and match," Moos says in a tone that implies if you don't have those options you don't have a uniform that excites athletes.
Oklahoma State unveiled an edgier uniform -- designed by Nike -- earlier this season. The uniforms featured interchangeable options as the Cowboys went bold with combinations of black, orange and possibly gray across four jerseys, four sets of pants and three helmets.
Oklahoma State associate vice president Kyle Wray says "college students like different" and one student-athlete in particular challenged Nike to think of his locker as a closet, offering him mixing and matching "depending on the attitude and personality of his team, the tone of a given game, the stadium environment and the opponent standing on the other side of the line of scrimmage."
Arizona State knows it entered the ground floor of a new trend, a house built by the Nike-Oregon relationship. With Washington State, Oklahoma State and others not far behind, Nike's Van Horne admits the visual innovation doesn't fit everyone. But in the world of recruiting, blending in simply doesn't work, either. "The worst thing is everybody looks the same out there," Van Horne says. He wants schools to realize they lack an individual statement and then do something about it, preferably in a bold, innovative manner.
And while some schools create their unique statement with tradition so many others need more than a color switch on a stripe. A lot more. In less tradition-entrenched programs it takes metallic helmets, color combinations only math majors can understand, pitchforks dripping in copper, all-black uniforms and Cougar-blood crimson to get people talking. Or more importantly, to get recruits talking.
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