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The Problem With Non-Uniform Uniforms

Here are the new uniform and helmet changes for MAC schools in 2012 that I am able to locate:

• Central Michigan showed off a new black alternate, and dipped their gold one in gold paint.
• UMass has all blacks as well, and a less descript helmet logo.
• Eastern Michigan added GAH, SHOULDERWINGS and thinks it can get away with grayness.
• Bowling Green added GAH, SHOULDERWINGS and also boxified the numbers a bit.
• Toledo upped its helmet game, removing all letters and just showing you a big rocket.

And on and on. There were probably some other subtle changes I missed. Everyone's always making a change here and there. Some of the jerseys are mere alternates that they wear once or twice. The OHIO black jerseys come to mind, and I hate to say that was a tipping point, but that might've at least pointed them toward the floodgates and how to break them open.

I'm going to be a hypocrite and break a rule of something I see a lot in lazy posts who fail to make their point. I'm going to quote the dictionary.

u·ni·form   [yoo-nuh-fawrm]


1. identical or consistent, as from example to example, place to place, or moment to moment: uniform spelling; a uniform building code.
2.without variations in detail: uniform output; a uniform surface.
3. constant; unvarying; undeviating: uniform kindness; uniform velocity.

Uniforms have a purpose. It's a psychological mnemonic used to understand, OK, I can't memorize the names and faces of 50 people, but I can remember that the Ohio Bobcats are designated by a very bold green and white. So if they're going to wear black, they will all wear black. OK, that's fine. Works for one game. But when you see their black uniforms after years of seeing green and wonder when Hawai'i emigrated to the foothills of Ohio, you're weakening that memory device and essentially the brand.

It's not that a uniform is slightly tweaked to include shoulder stripes or wings or a new font: it's that the aggregation of those uniforms, over time, is a fluid, non-uniform set of objects and motifs. The straight orange jersey with falcon head logo helmet is how I remember Josh Harris throwin' it in Doyt Perry Stadium. That was about five jersey iterations ago. My memory also has Omar Jacobs in a decked-out orange uniform with some black stripes that go across the clavicle. Next to that, it's Tyler Sheehan throwing in brown. Beside that, there's a moving picture Freddie Barnes in orange with some type of different but upgraded shoulder stripes breaking the NCAA record for receptions in a season. Then there's BooBoo Gates, also in orange, with some sharp serif font, returning kicks. This year it's going to be Anthon Samuel running with wings on his shoulders, in a more web-friendly font.

The memories are all there, but disjointed. They're not uniform.

Alternates are another story but they need to be used sparingly. Look to the NFL. If Ben Roethlisberger has a career game, and he does it in this uniform, how are you going to remember him? Forget the aesthetic appeal. The pro league is one of the most serial offenders in throwback jersey overload. But the precedent's already been set and there's no going back.

Changing a jersey should be as serious as changing a mascot name. Much thought needs to go into the decision of changing it, tenfold more than the amount of time a graphic design team spends fleshing it out in Photoshop. The change is not just in color and patterns, but in memories. New jerseys designate new eras, and that should span wider than the tenure of a coach, or a starting quarterback, or a calendar, which is where they're at now.

I do see some of the non-monetary reasons for it. It's also for the athletes, who embrace weird new things and get to call them their own. If they stopped with the wacky designs, the next class would feel left out. If it's for the athletes, then fine. But once they graduate, and keep tabs on their former team, they might see the same thing I do: several fragmented pictures of different people in different designs, even though they're playing for the same team.