Fancy Uniform: Enough Is Enough!

Virginia Tech actually let its football team be seen in public wearing this cartoon character on its helmets. - Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

I'm an ordinary gal: I appreciate fashion and enjoy watching Project Runway. l'm also a firm believer that there's a time and place for everything. I've had it with young men endlessly playing dress-up on a college football field on gameday.

Editor's Note: It is our pleasure to introduce Krista, who goes in-depth as to why schools rolling out alternate uniforms has grown tiresome. And after all, what exactly is wrong with Maroon on Maroon again? Enjoy!

--Flyers 13

THE GENESIS OF FANCY UNIFORM

Shiny, reflective helmets. Neon cleats. Pink for "The Cause". Matte-finished helmets. Pro Combat.

These days, you can't turn on your TV to watch a college football game without seeing at least one of the competing teams participating in the cartoon circus parade of a phenomenon that we'll just refer to in this article as Fancy Uniform.

Fancy Uniform was undeniably a product of the marketing genius of Nike co-founder, Oregon alum and mega-booster, Phil Knight. At the end of the 1996 season, Knight sat with then-head coach Mike Bellotti, and other university brass and decided to form a revolutionary partnership. Why not use the athletic program, namely football, to elevate the profile of the University of Oregon? Such an increase to the reputation of the athletic department would breed elevated academics, and the cycle would continue to perpetuate itself moving forward. It was genius.

What followed was a whirlwind of aesthetic overload emanating from the Pacific Northwest:

  • the green colorshift paint on the helmets in the Joey Harrington era (which actually made sense, given their mascot)
  • the diamond industrial garage flooring effect on the shoulders and knees in 2005, the introduction of "Black For Black's Sake" (BFBS) uniforms in 2006
  • the threat-and materialization-of a team full of human highlighters for Dennis Dixon's Ducks, wings around the neck, carbon fiber-style helmets, (The press for which Hydro Graphics undoubtedly still sends Phil Knight a Thank You card every year.)
  • And on. And on. And on.

The narrative every year became "Those crazy Ducks and their crazy uniforms! I can't imagine what they'll come up with next. Most importantly, people DID tune in to see what Knight & Co. came up with next.

Twenty years ago, all the University of Oregon had was a cartoon duck mascot and the colors plain ol' yellow and plain ol' green. Today, they're a national power with a national recruiting footprint, a seemingly endless color palate (And here I thought Volt had to do with electricity...) that resulted in over 500 unique uniform combinations.

500?!

Yes. If they add nothing, change nothing, and play 15 games each season, (Goodbye, BCS, hello, playoff!) the Ducks have the capability to not wear the same uniform for about 33 years.

THIRT-EE

THREE

YEARS

Though Knight's attachment to Oregon's football program is well-documented---he freely roams the sidelines on practices and game-day, keeps a locker in the team locker room, and even has Oregon's offensive and defensive coordinators meet with him to explain the X's and O's of the Ducks' scheme. What often goes understated is his more than $400 million in donations to the University and its athletic department for facilities.

Knight's latest crown jewel, the $68 million Hatfield-Dowlin Complex that houses Oregon's Football Operations Center, is a true masterpiece. In the weight room: Brazilian Ipe wood floors, and above, an indoor electronically-timed 40-yard track. In the locker room: keypad-secured player lockers, each equipped with its personal ventilation system, Corian surfaces, and a shelf that recharges players' electronic devices without having to plug them in. A state-of-the-art cold tub, hot tub, and hydrotherapy pool. Player lounges furnished in Italian leather-the kind generally reserved for the interior of Ferraris. Pool tables. Video games and gaming consoles hooked up to giant TV's.  Even in the coaches' locker room, TV's embedded into the mirrors. Yes, you read that correctly.

Ready to verbally commit to the Ducks? Prospects certainly were.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF IMPRESSIONABLE TEENS AND PHIL KNIGHT'S AFFINITY FOR SHINY THINGS

Let's talk teenage boys...or teenagers in general for that matter. From infancy, kids like shiny things. Honestly, that doesn't change as we age: grown women and our diamonds; grown men and their cars. Teenagers are enthralled with their image, and having the newest and best things, especially electronics nowadays.

Shiny. The best. The newest. The finest. Everything in the world that Phil Knight created in Eugene.

But how to get the nation's best athletes to come to Oregon over traditional national powers, such as USC, Florida, and Texas? By bringing media attention to the university. Enter Knight's marketing genius and the nationwide buzz surrounding the Ducks' crazy attire. Combine that with the rise of Chip Kelly and his revolutionary offensive system, and Oregon had caught lightning in a bottle.

Knight had built it and prospects certainly did come. All across the country, university athletic directors drooled. Then they wiped their mouths and incorrectly reasoned that Oregon's fast ascent was the direct result of Fancy Uniform. They quickly jumped into bed with big name uniform manufacturers and tried to be "the next Oregon". And thus, it began, and then it quickly escalated to manufacturers trying to one-up each other, with universities serving as a petri dish for whatever wretched color experiments didn't blind the scientists working that day.

Alternate uniforms are hardly a new phenomenon, but they were previously a one-game, special event: annual "throwbacks" or even Nike's (ridiculous) early Pro-Combat series. Now, Fancy Uniform has become a weekly event. Every week there's a new "tribute," "appreciation," or "cause" to support. Every week, there's a new alternate color uniform, school tradition to celebrate, or, if all else fails, there's always BFBS. With the money at stake, of course there is! Every week, a new uniform = every week a new "must-have" jersey for diehard fans to buy = more money for uniform manufacturers, a portion of which go to licensing fees paid to each university for the usage of its logo.

That's the true bottom line: it's not about recruiting, it's about money.

Editor's Note: I interject here because I can't for the life of me figure out how an ugly one-time jersey gets enough traction to generate sufficient sales to justify the effort. Yet they persist. Consider me perplexed. Carry on. --Flyers13

VIRGINIA TECH THEN JOINED THE REVOLUTION AND THAT HAS NOT BEEN A GOOD THING

Unlike most Hokie fans, I hated when we gave in to Fancy Uniform. I didn't like the one orange sleeve we wore in the Marcus Vick days; it was gratuitous, pointless, and unnecessary. Nor did I like the cheap, Wal-Mart looking jerseys that appeared in the Tyrod years (though I did like the number font). I really didn't like our futuristic, computer circuit board BFBS Pro Combat set (nor did I like losing to Boise State in them). Black isn't a school color of ours, and our VT isn't stuck in The Matrix.

I truly love Hokie Stone, but the Hokie Stone helmets were ridiculous: 11 blockheads running around trying to catch Vad Lee. The gray uniform set didn't translate to TV, rather it just looked dirty and dingy on screen. And i don't accept  the justification of maroon or orange camouflage for masquerading as any form of actual appreciation of our armed forces. That is just desecration and is downright disrespectful of the life-saving benefit that actual camouflage provides our deployed servicemen and servicewomen. I cringe when I hear or read fellow Hokies suggest that we should embrace Fancy Uniform and become the "Oregon of the East Coast". That position has been filled, and actually legitimately so, by the University of Maryland and its alum/Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank...who REALLY likes the Maryland state flag, if you haven't been able to tell.

Interestingly, the "traditional" powerhouse football programs either don't participate (Penn State, USC) or minimally participate in Fancy Uniform. For example:

  • Alabama's Pro-Combat uniform had only subtle placement of houndstooth within its numbers, a "Bama-classy" nod to the legendary Bear Bryant.
  • LSU's had a white helmet instead of their traditional yellow.
  • Texas added numbers to their helmet sides.
  • Florida? Twice! Once, a modernized throwback, the second, only minor "modernizations." Georgia: chrome helmet with a red center stripe.
  • Florida State: black helmet, minor "modernizations."
  • The most drastic powerhouse Pro Combat makeover belonged to Ohio State in 2011, and even those kept their same basic silver helmet, red jersey, silver pants and, again, "modernized" their traditional look.

DO CLOTHES REALLY MAKE THE MAN?

Why the lack of costume-y changes to these universities? They have standards? Maybe. They aren't seemingly desperate for attention? Perhaps. They have a brand. They clearly are mindful and respectful of that brand and don't want to do much to alter or deface it. These are also (generally) the most respected and respectable programs on the field. Coincidence? Hmm. All I know is that I don't want my beloved Hokies to stoop to the level of Boise State and their gigantic cartoonish helmet bronco...oh wait, we did that when we played with the Hokie Bird-an actual cartoon character-on the side of our helmets.

Oh, but the players love Fancy Uniform!  Of course they do. Fancy Uniform is shiny and new.

I have never in all my years following recruiting, heard a prospect name Fancy Uniform as his sole (or even chief) determining factor for his college choice. No, it's about if the school is close enough for his family and friends to come watch him play and if not, if his games will be shown on TV for them to watch. It's about the reputation of the school and its track record for putting guys in the NFL. It's about the relationship he has built with his recruiter over the years; all the texts, tweets, and phone calls-and the trust the coach has built with him over that same time. It's about the vibe he gets hanging with his potential teammates on his official visit. It's about the opinion of his family, who often are the ones to remind him to consider academics because football won't last forever. It's about the feeling he gets when he steps onto campus and stands on the 50 yard line, marveling at the size of the stadium and imagining it filled with fans cheering for him. Its about the hostesses the school provides, and the quality of the Xbox battles that rage until dawn in the player's dorms on their official visit.

A factor in his decision? Perhaps. THE determining factor? Never. Not once.

Phil Knight used Fancy Uniform to create interest in the University of Oregon. He dangled it as a shiny fishing lure in front of prospects to get them to pay attention to the Ducks and get them on campus, where he used his investments-the facilities-to often tip the scales in the Ducks' favor. Most other universities, Virginia Tech included, do not have remotely comparable luxuries. We have solidly nice facilities-and getting nicer with each addition-but let's not pretend we have a Phil Knight on standby with a locker in Merryman who we can just call up and have him stroke a check anytime we feel we need something shinier or newer. We have to stop trying to shortcut matters by pretending Fancy Uniform is such an integral piece to long-term on-field success. After all, we've only begun using Fancy Uniform as a lifestyle over the last couple of seasons. What do we have to show for it during that time? A 7-6 record and an 8-5 record. A line of 5-star recruits stretching down Spring Road just waiting to sign their Letters of Intent for the Hokies? Hardly.

Originally, aside from Oregon, Fancy Uniform was meant to be "special". We've now gotten to a point where, because seemingly everyone has Fancy Uniform each week, everyone is special all the time, which means that, in actuality, no one is special. (Ed. Note: See Dr. Suess's 'The Sneetches' for further instruction if need be. Nobody is fancier with stars upon thars)

Fancy Uniform has become the college football equivalent of a Little League participation trophy. The Hokies need to buck the trend and revert to uniform simplicity: the days where if the Hokies came out in All Maroon Everything, the other team was about to have a bad day. They need to get back to what put Virginia Tech on the map in the college football landscape to begin with: a smashmouth running game, a hardnosed, relentless defense, and game-changing special teams play. To attract the top prospects possible, we need them to take notice of the quality of our play on the field.

The first step is to take off our costumes.

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