After much fanfare, Rutgers today publicly revealed their new Nike Pro Combat uniform designs right in the football program's backyard in New York City. The uniforms seem to closely fit the template from other Nike re-designs at programs such as Oregon, barring the color scheme of course. (The traditional scarlet, white, and black are new joined by silver.) The block R is staying put, but now Rutgers is wearing metallic silver helmets, with the jerseys themselves being a radical departure from the traditional Schiano-era duds. Out is a simple, clean, sleek design, and in is an overcomplicatd getup that looks like a garish Arena-league uniform.
I really don't want to sound like crotchety old man here, I don't. I love modernism in architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright and such) and in art (all of that weird stuff in MoMA that your parents hate.) Futurism for the sake of futurism is great. This getup may appear to be that, but it isn't quite. This isn't a jersey for your great grandchildren; it's one for your little brother that grew up on Halo and Red Bull. That's the fundamental issue with this rebranding. It isn't design for design's sake. If they just wanted to throw caution to the wind, that would be one thing, and it would be awesome. This, this is a bastardization born out of marketing concerns, patched together by a committee to appeal to solely to the whims of 17-year old boys, or at least the ones in their focus groups. Can anyone put together an animated graphic of Jon Hamm repeatedly shedding a single tear for the occasion?
Those teenagers drive jersey sales, and more importantly, they are the ones who commit to football programs. Make no mistake about it, the kids love these sorts of designs (or so we are told by a legion of consultants), they lap it up and can't get enough of it. When the average person outside of NYC metro before thought about Rutgers football, they might have thought of a non-descript above average program, the principled dweebs who aren't willing to sacrifice academics at the altar of athletic glory. Now, love them or hate them, we're the ones with the controversial uniforms. Believe you me, no one in Piscataway or Beaverton today is upset to be getting a negative review here. People are talking. The only thing that would be cause for genuine alarm would be silence.
So yeah, these are awful, and any sort of negative adjective you want to throw out there. Just dreadful, it is unfathomably, unspeakably horrendous; a complete affront to any sense of good taste or restraint. It also is going to generate a lot of buzz for the program, which will translate into better players on the field, and more revenue flowing into the athletic department. Functionally, for what the Rutgers athletic department wanted to achieve in willingly becoming a tool for Nike, these are going to be a big, fantastical success. It's for that reason that the uniform's harshest critics, myself included, can't really do anything except go along begrudgingly. As terrible as these look, if the program is winning and doing well, who the heck cares?
Like it or not, college football is a business. If you want to be in denial and bury your head in the sand about that, go ahead, but you'll just end up in an abyss like the Rutgers football of the late-90s. Ugly uniforms are just one in the latest series of compromises - higher ticket prices, high cable subscriber rights fees, expensive concessions, neutral site games, ESPN3, bowl ticket guarantees that programs have to undertake to keep up with the joneses in the college athletics arms race. Make no mistake about it, these are all called necessary evils because they fundamentally boil down to ever-more complex and elaborate ways of extracting money out of the pocket of the fans and supporters of any given program. It's dreadful, it really is, but the tide is heading in that direction, and one can't exactly afford to be swept up in the undertow. There are times to make a stand, and this isn't really one of them for anyone who wants to be smart about picking their battles. Everybody is jumping off a bridge, so yeah, we have to do it too. Oh well.