Column: All This Hoopla, Over A Helmet?

Note: After posting my original blog on my bafflement over the excitement over NDSU’s new green helmet, I was asked to write something to appear in Tuesday’s Forum printed newspaper. It was not posted online at www.inforum.com, so here it is. Same idea, just a little less stream-of-consciousness.

FARGO — Kids today. Four straight national championships and a chance at a fifth isn’t enough for them, apparently. They need some bling, too.

This would be the reason North Dakota State is wearing green helmets — OMG! — Saturday against Western Illinois. The Bison revealed this nugget at coach Chris Klieman’s weekly news conference Monday and posted a 30-second video on the athletic department’s web site, complete with dramatic music and climactic cuts.

The story was the buzz of local social media and a short article written by Jeff Kolpack was the most-viewed piece of information on this newspaper’s web site for much of the day.

Details were important: It’s a matte green finish with a yellow wheat shock running the length of the crown. Klieman even commented that the helmet might provide some inspiration for the Bison in their big game Saturday.

Sigh.

It’s a helmet, man. A helmet. There is no way the color of NDSU’s helmets will have any impact whatsoever on the game. None.

But this is where we are in college athletics today, when shiny objects (or in this case matte objects) can be perceived as equally important to blocking and tackling.

The alternate equipment craze took off several years ago thanks to Nike’s extremely tight (some would say corrupt) relationship with the University of Oregon. The equipment giant came up with new uniform designs, color schemes, helmets and everything else for the Ducks — and it became a thing. Now everyone’s doing it, even down the Bison’s Football Championship Subdivision.

Even football non-powerhouse South Dakota got into the action last October when it unveiled chrome helmets and alternate uniforms for a game against Northern Iowa. Didn’t help. The Coyotes lost that game and finished 2-10.

But those helmets were fresh! Or something. I’ve been told that’s a modern young-person version of cool.

That’s what this is about. Kids these days expect their college football teams to not have boring, old-fashioned uniforms. No Penn State or Alabama simplicity. They want flash and chrome and neon. Klieman said the schools NDSU is recruiting against are changing their look often and that can play into a young athlete’s decision.

So think about this scenario:

Coach: “Young man, we’d love to have you come to NDSU. We’ve won four straight national championships, we’ve put a number of players into the NFL, we’ve defeated FBS schools and we generally do everything first class. Can we count on you?”

Player: “What color are your helmets?”

Coach: “Yellow.”

Player: “Like, chrome yellow? Or matte yellow? Or neon yellow? Or chartreuse?”

Coach: “Yellow. Just yellow. However, we have lost only five games in the last five seasons.”

Player: “Yeah, that’s cool. But I’m going to Northern Iowa because their helmets are dope.”

You’d hope more thought would go into a decision than that, but NDSU is taking no chances. The Bison are simply keeping up with the Joneses. Helmets might not be the No. 1 factor in a kid’s choice, but it could be a factor.

I am old. Maybe you are old. We don’t understand this phenomenon, other than we think it is shallow and silly. It’s another example of Nike and Under Armor getting their tentacles into college athletics.

Winning games isn’t enough these days. Now the kids need flash, too.

So what’s an old-school coach like Klieman to do except smile and say these new helmets are really cool?

He has to do that. I don’t.

A helmet or uniform doesn’t matter. Blocking and tackling better than the other team does. This whole thing is an overblown waste of time.

And while you’re at it, get off my lawn.