Danger, Eyeballs: Alternate Uniforms Have Run Their Course

  • Air Force wide receiver Tyler Williams celebrates a touchdown run in the third quarter of Air Force's 49-46 win over Colorado State during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (Mark Reis/The Gazette via AP) ap — Mark Reis

  • Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, left, runs on to the field with his players before an NCAA college football game against Army, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Darren Abate) ap — Darren Abate (Above); Mark Reis (Below)

  • Maryland quarterback Perry Hills looks for a receiver in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State in College Park, Md., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) ap — Patrick Semansky

  • Oregon wide receiver Charles Nelson (6) scores a touchdown against Southern California in the first half of an NCAA college football game in Los Angeles Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) Reed Saxon

  • Stanford defensive end Luke Kaumatule (99) in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd)

  • Maryland quarterback Perry Hills looks for a receiver in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Ohio State in College Park, Md., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

  • Oregon tight end Pharaoh Brown (85), scores a touchdown in the first quarter against Arizona State in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016 in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd) Thomas Boyd—AP

  • Dartmouth joined the trend over the past few years, eschewing its familiar green for the occasional black, as the Big Green’s J.J. Jefferies (10), Seth Simmer (69) and Davaron Stockman (91) displayed against Brown on Saturday. Valley News — Tris Wykes

  • FILE- - In this Oct. 29, 2016, file photo, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert (10) passes in the second quarter against Arizona in an NCAA college football game in Eugene, Ore. In a season of surprises for the Ducks, perhaps nothing has been more unexpected than the emergence of true freshman quarterback Herbert. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd, File) ap — Thomas Boyd (Above); Patrick Semansky (Below)

Orlando Sentinel
Published: 11/16/2016 12:10:44 AM
Modified: 11/16/2016 12:20:14 AM

Sometimes you can’t tell the players without a program. Now you can’t tell the programs without a color-coded uniform guide that’s updated every 15 minutes.

There’s no telling what kind of get-up a team will show up in every Saturday. The world certainly has more pressing problems than what kind of clothes football players wear into battle, but the alternate-uniform kaleidoscope is starting to give me a headache.

Full disclosure: I’m a grumpy almost-old man. But I can’t be the only human who thinks this wardrobe roulette is a little played out.

I turned on the TV this past weekend and saw a team in all-black uniforms with white stripes and stars on the shoulders. I think it was Louisville, though I’m still not sure.

Notre Dame showed up in its “Shamrock Series” garb, featuring brunette uniforms and helmets with hand-painted illustrations of the motif above the Basilica doorway.

Maryland came out wearing tomato red from head to toe. Air Force went with its “Sharktooth” uniforms. Dozens of schools that played off Veteran’s Day with camouflage or red-white-and-blue logos, facemasks, shoes or other accoutrements.

I’m all for honoring the vets, and I sure don’t want to upset the Vatican. It’s just that last weekend was also the supposed anniversary of the first game in which players wore uniforms.

Some historians say it was Harvard-Yale on Nov. 13, 1875. Whatever the date, it made me wistful for those simpler days before Nike turned football fields into fashion runways designed to launch new product.

Ah, remember when teams had only home and away uniforms? Dull, yes, but it sure made things exciting when Clemson would show up in orange britches or Lou Holtz’s Notre Dame burst out of the tunnel wearing green jerseys.

Everything changed about 15 years ago with Nike chairman and proud Oregon alum Phil Knight. He decided the best way to raise the Ducks’ profile was to deck them out in approximately 3,923 combinations of green, white and yellow.

The old guard (Alabama, Clemson, etc.) generally stuck with what always worked. Teams without tradition (anyone in the AAC) saw alternate unis as a way to build a brand.

Maryland tried to become Oregon East thanks to alum and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank. The fashion arms race was on. Even Harvard unveiled a six-uniform combo with “matte” helmets last year.

I liked the uni freshness, but it was like a drug. You have to keep raising the dosage to get the same kick.

How long until FSU shows up wearing chrome helmets featuring orange facemasks and an illustration of Burt Reynolds as “The Bandit?”

I mean, is it too much to ask that teams wear their school colors?

Of course, schools only care what recruits think and whether fans will spend $79 on the latest jersey. All but lost in all is the minor issue of whether alternate uniforms actually help teams win.

For clues to that, we turn to the College Football Uniform Study. It’s a project headed by Chuck Stokes, an assistant sociology professor at Samford.

From 2010 through last season, SEC teams’ average margin of victory at home games was almost a touchdown less when wearing alternate uniforms. Non-SEC teams in the top 25 won by about a field goal more when wearing alternates.

There are plenty of variables in the study, but the evidence suggests it doesn’t matter what kind of clothes our football emperors wear. Then there are days like Saturday.

Ohio State crushed Maryland’s tomatoes, 62-3. Oregon fell to 3-7 after losing to staid old Stanford, 52-27.

So through all the panoramic confusion and headache, it’s comforting to know one thing hasn’t changed since 1875.

The player makes the uniform, not the other way around.

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