Sports pet peeve: Why can’t teams just wear traditional uniforms?

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On Sunday, I watched a great College Basketball game between the Indiana Hoosiers and the Michigan State Spartans.  The game was good enough, that after an initial reaction to the uniforms Michigan State chose to wear, I was able to let it go, and simply enjoy the action. 

After the game was over though, I decided to revisit the topic.  I know this isn’t a new trend.  Luckily, it’s mainly isolated to college sports.  Nike, Under Armour, and to a lesser extent Adidas have outfitted the schools they have contracts with, in some hideous gear over the last few years.  Luckily, the professional sports franchises tend to keep things dialed down, and any changes are very subtle.

As I watched on Sunday, I’ll say that the uniforms the Spartans were wearing were not the worst I’ve ever seen.  They weren’t too outlandish; a pretty simple design with the Spartan logo on the chest, rather than the word “Spartans”.  What I didn’t like was the gold or bronze trim and shoes.  Since when does Michigan State have that color in their color scheme?  As far as I can remember, they’re green and white.

Hell, even my beloved Louisville Cardinals fell into the trap last season.  They went on their Final Four run wearing hideous pinkish-orangeish uni’s.  I could only tolerate them because they went 8-1 wearing them.  Yeah, yeah, I get it.  I’m a curmudgeon.  I have an old way of thinking.  Everyone is doing it.  You know what though, everyone is not doing it.

You know who wasn’t doing it on Sunday? Indiana wasn’t.  The Indiana Hoosiers haven’t changed their uniforms in my lifetime.  They have the same block letters on the front, the same trim around the shoulders and on the shorts.  Their uniforms have a number on front and on back.  The only colors they use are red and white.  There are no crazy designs hidden in the fabric.  They still even wear the crazy warm-up pants with the red and white stripes.  You know what that is?  Tradition. 

It used to mean something for athletes to put on the uniform for a great team.  At every level of sports, players took pride in donning the traditional jersey of their school or professional organization.  I realize that the uniform doesn’t actually make the player perform better.  However, the desire not to let down the school or the franchise raises the sense of urgency.

I always hear the argument in college sports, that the kids and recruits love them.  I realize as a society we feel some ridiculous need to pander to today’s youth.  Instead of falling into that trap, why not change the mindset.  Some schools don’t do it.  I’m sure they’re approached with different uniform designs that the kids will reaalllyy like.  They just choose not to change them. 

Are schools really losing key recruits because they don’t have funky uniforms?  I don’t think so.  When was the last time Alabama changed their football uniforms?  How about never!  Yet they just stomped Notre Dame for the National Championship a few short weeks ago. 

Alabama competes for the National Championship every year.  Apparently, they feel their uniforms mean something.  When Alabama steps on the field, the opposition knows exactly what they are in for.  They see the crimson and white.  They see the boring helmets with the white stripe down the middle, and the numeral on the sides.  Teams facing Alabama know they’re likely leaving with a loss.

Some of the greatest sports franchises in history have never changed their uniforms, or have made very subtle changes.  How about the New York Yankees?  Only the greatest franchise in Major League Baseball history.  What about the Green BayPackers, or the Pittsburgh Steelers?  They’re only two of the most successful NFL franchises ever.  The Detroit Red Wings are one of the most dominant NHL franchises.  When have they ever messed with their unis?  The Los Angeles Lakers?  Arguably the greatest NBA franchise and they’ve only made slight tweaks to their uniforms over the years. 

Each of those franchises has a brand.  They are household names.  When you design a simple, clean uniform, with very little flash, do you know what you have?  You have a timeless uniform.  You have a uniform that doesn’t need to be changed.  A uniform that players for generations can proudly wear, and that generations of consumers will happily purchase in support of their team.

I’m not completely against change.  If you’re team has some late ‘60’s or early ‘70’s cursive lettering, by all means, update it.  If the trim on the jerseys needs to be sharpened to look more modern, go right ahead, fix it.  If you want to adjust the hue of your team colors for the better (please, stay away from neon), ok.  But sports fans should be able to turn on the television on any given day, and immediately recognize who you are. 

I know my rant will fall on deaf ears.  Unfortunately, the generations behind me apparently think it’s cool to dress like garbage.  Many colleges and universities think they can cash in on alternate uniforms.  They apparently don’t care whether or not the uniform means anything.  That’s fine, go right ahead.  Hopefully in a few years you’ll look back in horror.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to applaud those schools and professional sports organizations that choose tradition.  Even those that I root against.

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