I Don’t Get The Obsession Over Alternate Jerseys And Helmets, And Also Get Off My Lawn

Allow me to be the wet blanket.

North Dakota State revealed Monday it would wear green helmets for its football game Saturday against Western Illinois. This is a big deal, apparently. Jeff Kolpack’s story on it spent much of the day as the most-read article at www.inforum.com.

So-called alternate jerseys and helmets became a thing several years ago, mostly because of the University of Oregon’s friendly relationship with Nike. The ties between those two entities are so tight (bordering on corrupt, some might say) it seems the Ducks roll out different uniforms, helmets, shoes, gloves seemingly every week.

Now everybody’s doing it, including programs in the Football Championship Subdivision of which NDSU is a member. Even South Dakota, long the dreg of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, unveiled shiny new uniforms and chrome helmets for a conference game last year against Northern Iowa.

The new look helped the Coyotes so much they lost to the Panthers by the closer-than-usual score of 27-16 in the midst of a 2-10 season.

Can you detect the sarcasm?

I know full well I’m going down the old man “get off my lawn” route here, but what in the world is the obsession with alternate uniforms and helmets? There was a time when the results on the field mattered and uniforms were just, well, uniforms.

Think about this for a moment. The Bison have won four straight national championships, are positioning themselves for a run at a fifth and have an important game against a good team upcoming Saturday at the Fargodome. And apparently that’s not good enough. There is an element of the fan base who are actually excited because the Bison will wear a green matte (not shiny) helmet with a shock of wheat along the crown. Priorities?

Even Bison coach Chris Klieman said the new helmets could lead his team to play inspired football against Western Illinois. A chance for a fifth straight national title isn’t inspiration enough?

Again, I get it. I’m an old man. I don’t matter. Splashy new uniforms (shiny objects, literally in some cases) are all the rage these days because that’s what the kids like. And if the kids think different helmets or jerseys are dope, sick or insane then what’s a college football coach to do other than accept it and OK the new gear?

Perhaps I’m just as cynical as I am old. I’ve always viewed alternate uniforms and polished new logos (from college to the NFL, NBA, MLB or NHL) as simply a way to sell more gear to the rubes. If ol’ State U unveils black jerseys or some other unusual uniform twist, fans will have to buy the latest gear to keep up. Nobody would want to go to a game with — gasp! — last year’s gear.

I’ve also viewed the tweaking and updating of uniforms as a way Nike and Under Armor and other manufacturers have ingratiated themselves directly into sports. Instead of simply selling gear to teams or leagues, like it was way back when, companies like Nike are now part of the decision-making process and marketing. It’s a huge advantage to be inside the circle instead of on the outside looking in.

The part I admit I missed — and this is where my old-manishness really shows through — is that chrome helmets or matte helmets or alternate jerseys are, in fact, something athletes and recruits think is a really big deal. Maybe not THE reason somebody would choose a college football program, but certainly a factor. Bling doesn’t hurt, evidently.

Maybe the best explanation is from a post a couple of years ago on Bleacher Report. You can read the whole thing here, but the best part is the last part. It reads thusly:

The guys making up your current roster, and the talented high schoolers that fans hope get persuaded to show up on campus, are the target market.

Joe Fan does not like the chromed out helmets? So, what, Willie the Wide Receiver thinks they are dope and he is excited about getting to wear fresh gear.

Josephine Fan does not like the alternate color jerseys with the gloves to match? Who cares, because 4-star Rick the Recruit thinks they are pretty chill and enjoyed seeing all of the combinations when he was on his visit to campus.

That’s not to say that uniforms are the “hard sell” to get recruits, rather, they are perks of being at a given institution, as we’ve discussed at Your Best 11 before.

So, while the media coverage of uniform reveals is nice, the like-dislike and ugly-cool chatter being had by adults who are incredibly inconsequential to the winning of football games is a lot of wasted breath. The cash is a great byproduct of something in which players, current and future, have a real interest.

The guys out there balling on Saturdays like to look fresh, and sometimes fresh comes with a new look. The future ballers like to see what their freshness options happen to be and imagine just how dope they could look in a myriad of uniform stylings.

This marketing is for them.

Money and marketing drive the craze. Fans like to stay current, and re-branding helps push that agenda. Players like to stay fresh, and schools, with apparel outfitters, market to that desire. The driving forces behind the new uniforms and helmet craze are not magic, they’re simple: Give one group what they want and create demand among another group in the process.

Then reap the benefits.


Get off my lawn.