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Are College Football Uniforms Getting Out of Control?

Sometime in the early 2000’s college football programs decided it was time to ditch the traditional uniforms and go with something completely different. It started as a single alternative uniform. Sometimes it was all black and other times it was all white. Then a few programs expanded their helmet selection. Matte black got popular and then came chrome. Before we knew it, almost every university in the country was wearing crazy colors. Some teams were wearing colors that weren’t even their school colors! In the last two or three years it has gotten completely out of control. Teams will do anything to get attention even if this means they have to grab a bucket of paint and throw it on a helmet to see what happens. When it all comes down to it, the only reason teams are doing this is to be the “cool kid on campus” that gets the recruits.

Recruiting and Alternative Uniforms

The Oregon Ducks were one of the first teams to try out alternative uniforms. There is a very good reason for this. The creator of Nike, Phil Knight, is an Oregon graduate so he is willing to let the Ducks become the test case for all kinds of crazy uniforms. During some of the bowl games in the early 2000’s the Ducks would wear “throwback” uniforms that were all yellow with a huge Duck on the helmet. This garnered tons of interest which caught the eye of the Oregon football administration. Getting attention is very important in college football as there are well over 100 programs. If it takes a unique uniform to get attention there are many teams that are willing to go that route.

College football recruiting has changed drastically over the last three decades. Years ago high school students were not recruited until their senior year and many of them wanted to go the university in which their parents received their degree or to the school they grew up cheering for. That is no longer the case. In fact, some recruits will change their mind three and four times during their senior year just because they want to do something different. High school football players are attracted to the shiny object. Sometimes that shiny object is a brand new helmet worn by Arizona State or a unique pair of cleats worn by Notre Dame. This sounds a little bit superficial but it is the reality of recruiting in 2013 and beyond. There are a large number of high school athletes that will choose a college based on the glitz and glamour of the school rather than the education.

High school athletes also get caught up in the moment. If they are on a recruiting trip and the team runs out in alternative uniforms they see the reaction of the fans. This might entice them to sign their letter of intent to that particular school. Strong recruiting coaches know when a team will be coming out in an alternative uniform. They schedule all the big recruits that weekend and hope to show them a unique experience. Prior to the proliferation of the alternative uniform, recruits would come during any given weekend out of the season and just watch the game. My how things have changed.

Traditional Football Uniforms

When I was at NC State from 2000-2004 I can remember making fun of teams like Notre Dame, Alabama and Penn State for being too traditional. Penn State has worn the same uniform since the beginning of their program. They have a white helmet with a blue strip down the middle. This has never changed. The same is true with Alabama. They have a crimson helmet with the players number on each side. No matter what year you watch an Alabama game you are going to see the exact same helmets. At the time it was very boring. Who wanted to wear the same thing every single week? Well, now the traditional uniforms are the new “cool” uniforms. With Maryland and Texas Tech wearing different uniforms every single week some fans have forgotten what their traditional uniforms look like.

The University of Maryland has gone above and beyond to avoid being traditional. The creator of Under Armour graduated from the University of Maryland and his goal is to put the craziest color combinations together when it comes to the Terrapins uniforms. They have worn everything from all black to camouflage. Their helmets are sometimes a completely different color from their uniform. Their cleats are a complete joke. Everything from red to yellow to neon colors have been worn by the Terrapin players. I know the ultimate goal is to get attention but they have taken it too far. In the next few years I would expect to see the Terrapins tone it down a notch rather than spending all of this money on a uniform that will last for about three or four hours.

I am glad to see some teams wearing traditional uniforms today. This does not happen very often. My alma mater, NC State, has given into the alternative uniforms and they look terrible. They have even worn pink uniforms. While the cause was great I feel as if a ribbon or a sticker can be worn to support a cause. Once again, when I was in school things were much different. NC State had two sets of uniforms. At home, they wore white pants and red jerseys. On the road they wore red pants and white jerseys. This was tradition and it rarely changed. During a very important game or a nationally televised game the Wolfpack would come out in all red uniforms at home. This got the crowd pumped up and it was something the players enjoyed. It is important to note that all the equipment staff had to do was set out away pants with home jerseys. They did not have to come up with a completely new outfit.

One of the defining moments of my NC State career, as a football fan, was when the Wolfpack came out in all white versus UNC in Chapel Hill. I still have several pictures from this game. It was one of the biggest games of the year and the coaching staff realized that all white would get the team fired up. Maybe once or twice a year the team would come out in all white or all red. Unless it was a very important game, the team wore traditional colors. That is not the case today. On any given Saturday NC State and other teams will wear alternative uniforms just to get a little bit of attention. This makes me cry inside. The big games are no longer big because the unique uniforms are worn every single week.

Other Ways to Get Attention

Rather than coming up with the craziest color combinations possible there is one way to get interest from high school recruits – win! The Alabama Crimson Tide have never had alternative uniforms. They wear the same uniforms week in and week out yet they still have some of the top recruiting classes in the country. They have won three of the last four national championships. All they have to do is continue to win. If the Alabama Crimson Tide continues to win they will never had to worry about wearing some crazy looking uniform to get the attention of high school kids.

Unfortunately, some programs have struggled to produce a consistent winning product on the field so they feel as if they have to go in a different direction. Many of these programs will come up with the “hottest” colors possible when it comes to a helmet or uniform. They will also hire coaches that are a little bit out of the ordinary. They may run a unique offense or dress in an unusual way. We have often heard that bad publicity is better than no publicity at all. After my four years of undergraduate studies at NC State I can confirm that any publicity is better than no publicity. Just last week the NC State Wolfpack lost to Wake Forest and no one cares. Apathy is the worst thing for a college football program. It is better to have fans that are up in arms about the success of the program rather than fans that could care less what happens on any given Saturday afternoon.

One of the reasons the SEC continues to be the best conference in college football is because their fans. Some would argue that SEC fans care too much. Well, this is the exact reason SEC schools get some of the best coaches in the sport. The athletic departments are willing to pony up the cash because they know fans will pack the stadiums every Saturday. This is not true in the ACC and PAC 12. Getting fans to a stadium is like pulling teeth in some other conference. Rather than trying to do it through crazy college football uniforms it is best to just win.

Why ACC Football Will Never Change

Saturday, October 5th, 2013 was a great illustration as to why the ACC will never change. During the entire summer I made fun of the ACC because of the lack of depth and quality football. There is no arguing the fact that the ACC is one of the best basketball conferences in the nation. In fact, it can be argued it is the best basketball conference because of the number of championships won in the last three decades. That said, football is a much different story. The ACC has been throttled in BCS Bowl Games since the inception of the BCS. The middle to bottom half of the conference is downright bad. We saw more of that in recent weekends which should come as no surprise to most diehard college football fans.

Maryland and UVA Are A Joke

The University of Maryland came into Saturday, October 5th, 2013 undefeated and #25 in the country. Some analysts were predicting an upset of the top 10 Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee. Maryland was coming off a huge win against West Virginia and they had tons of momentum. When all was said and done Maryland had the wood laid to them at Florida State. They left Doak Campbell Stadium with a 63 spot hung on them. To make matters even worse, Maryland couldn’t even get on the scoreboard. While Florida State and Jameis Winston are very good in 2013 they are not so good that the final score should be 63-0. This is all too typical of a subpar ACC team that breaks into the top 25.

Another lackluster performance on the weekend of October 5th took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Cavaliers have not been a good football team in years but most thought they could beat Ball State in Charlottesville today. When the scoreboard read zeros it was Ball State with a total of 48 points and Virginia with 27; absolutely embarrassing. This is no disrespect to Ball State but no ACC team should allow a MAC team to drop 48 points on them in their home stadium. At one point the ACC thought they could be one of the elite BCS football conferences when they added Virginia Tech and Miami in the early 2000s. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While Maryland and Virginia laid eggs today it is important to note that other cellar dwellers sucked it up as well. North Carolina State University lost to Wake Forest in Raleigh and the UNC Tar Heels took another conference loss. These teams are just straight up bad. If they played in the SEC or PAC 12 they would get routed every single week. It is almost basketball season on Tobacco Road so there isn’t too much longer to wait for something exciting to happen. That said, college football season will continue to grind on through the end of the year. Clemson and Florida State are very good college football teams but the rest of the conference is just plain terrible. What is interesting is that both Florida State and Clemson have been rumored to be leaving the conference to head to the SEC. With a few more years of terrible ACC football I believe it would be smart for them to leave.

Should Clemson and FSU Go To The SEC?

When SEC expansion was a hot topic a few years ago two ACC schools continued to come up – Clemson and Florida State. It makes perfect sense that these two schools would jump from the ACC to the SEC. First of all, they are not historically strong in basketball. In fact, Clemson has gone over 50 years without beating UNC in Chapel Hill in round ball. Florida State has been good recently but it has not been a long term trend. The ACC is historically strong in college basketball and they are trying to expand that even more by adding Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The second reason it would be smart for the Tigers and Seminoles to go to the SEC is because of their football history. We can all agree that the ACC has not been strong in football. In fact, it has been well over a decade since the ACC has had a team in the national championship game in college football.

Part of the reason the ACC does not compete well in big time games is the level of competition. If Florida State and Clemson want to truly step up their level of competition they will go to a better football conference. Florida State’s main rival is Florida which happens to be in the SEC. Clemson’s main rival is South Carolina which happens to be in the SEC. These are just a few more reasons it would make sense to get out of a basketball conference and into a football conference.

The other issue is money. The SEC Network will start in 2014 and that will be a huge revenue generator for the conference. This will put more money in the pockets of all the teams that are in the SEC. Right now, there are no plans for the ACC to start a network. There are deals with the ACC with major networks but they do not have their own cable or satellite network. It would be smart for the ACC to get things in place before some of the bigger players in the conference decide to jump ship for more money. This has already happened with Maryland leaving the ACC to head to the B1G conference. Ten years ago there is no way Maryland would have left but the B1G Network is a huge revenue generator and the Terps want that extra cash. If the ACC continues to stumble it may be the case that it no longer exists as it is today. It might end up being just a basketball conference on Tobacco Road and the northeast.

Florida State and Clemson would like to improve in basketball but it is quite obvious they are more focused on football. For quite some time I have said that universities should focus on something they have been historically good at. NC State does a terrible job of this. They have won two national championships in basketball yet the alumni want a good football program. The NC State football program has never been good over a five year period. Instead of sinking money into Carter Finley Stadium they would be smart to spend money on the basketball program. Duke and UNC are just down the road so it should not be hard for NC State to get recruits that want to play at the highest level of basketball.

Is the ACC Just a Basketball Conference?

In the next two years the ACC is going to add Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville. Louisville is coming off a national championship in college basketball and Syracuse has been one of the best teams in the Big East for several decades. One of the reasons the ACC is adding these schools is to have the ACC Basketball tournament in Madison Square Garden. This will be a huge draw for ACC fans. Most ACC fans are used to going to Atlanta or Greensboro for the ACC Basketball Tournament so this will be something completely different. If they do finalize plans on MSG I think it is safe to say that the ACC is a basketball conference and will always be a basketball conference.

Florida State and Clemson have a little bit of an identity crisis in the ACC. Clemson rarely makes it out of the first round of the ACC Tournament and Florida State has only recently had success in this tournament. That said, they have no problems running up and down the field on ACC teams during the football season. If Clemson and Florida State end up in the top 10 in football this year I predict the SEC will make a strong push to pull them out of the ACC and into a conference that is football centered.

As we continue to move into basketball season most schools in the ACC are gearing up for a huge season. In Chapel Hill they are getting ready for Late Night with Roy. In Durham, Coach K and the boys are hoping to make another Final Four run. Teams like Syracuse and UVA are hoping to make a strong run in the ACC Tournament. These are teams that do not care about college football. They have all been throttled in the last week on the gridiron so the fan bases are looking for revenge on the hardwood.

I can clearly remember being at NC State years ago and hoping college football season would come around because our basketball team could not beat Duke or UNC. I was a little bit short minded in that I should have accepted that the ACC will forever be a basketball conference. This weekend proved that ACC football is not going to change in the near future. The only way it is going to change is if the conference loses the power teams to the SEC or another power conference.

 
By Jesse Wojdylo