By Jim Weber
I’m not even going to pretend to be objective on the subject of the rumored new Penn State uniforms.
I’m a self-admitted traditionalist that loves the old-school “Bucco Bruce” creamsicle uniforms of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and “Pat Patriot” threads of the New England Patriots, prefers the pre-Phil Knight Oregon uniforms of the 1990s over what they wear now and thinks we are approaching the College Football Uniform Apocalypse each time an abomination like this is unveiled.
But I don’t think I need to be unbiased to illustrated why Penn State changing its uniforms would be a big mistake, just some common sense.
Let me break down the three main reasons proponents are pushing for uniform changes in Happy Valley and how each of them is fundamentally flawed:
#1: “It will aide recruiting during the four-year bowl ban when the Nittany Lions will need all the help they can get.”
We know that 18-year-old kids love any uniform change and the crazier the better. If they got to pick the helmets for programs with iconic and minimalist lids like Penn State, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, I’m sure they would look nothing like they always have.
But changing uniforms comes with a lot of trade-offs like upsetting elderly alumni and former players and losing a huge sense of nostalgia – especially you are dealing with a program as historic as Penn State’s – among other things.
And if the athletic department’s main goal in a uniform change is to attract recruits, it can easily accomplish the same benefits with Pro Combat uniforms that can be done five or six times a year.
Look at Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon, who seemingly changes the Wolverines’ outfits on a weekly basis but wouldn’t dare make a permanent change to the uniforms or helmets, lest he hear fans screaming on talk radio about Bo Schembechler rolling over in his grave. And Penn State would have faced a similar outrage at just the idea of changing uniforms just a year ago before the Jerry Sandusky scandal came to light.
Pro Combat uniforms are a gold mine for athletic departments because they create a new round of buzz and influx of merchandise sales every time they are released; the Oregon Ducks are proof of this. And why change the permanent uniform one time when you can do it for every other game and just slap the “Pro Combat” label on them to show the elderly alums these are a one-time deal?
For example, imagine the Nittany Lions having a “blue out” instead of a “white out” for the Oct. 27 night game in Happy Valley against Ohio State with the stands full of Penn State recruits and the Nittany Lions surprising the crowd by running out in all-navy blue Pro Combat uniforms and matte black helmets like these.
While I would never want this to be Penn State’s permanent helmet, it would be an awesome Pro Combat one (by the way, I have to admit Penn State has one of the best logos in college sports.)
And that scene I described is what would give recruits goose bumps while entertaining the idea of playing for Penn State, not some lame August fashion show.
Keep in mind, fans agreeing on getting new uniforms is one thing. Fans agreeing on what new uniforms look good is a completely different issue. Any new design would fracture a fan base that almost universally loves the current look for its simplicity and iconic nature.
If you want a worst-case scenario about new uniforms, look no further than Pitt or Maryland. No one seemed to have a problem with either changing their uniforms until the world was introduced to “Dinocat” and “Turtle Power.”
#2: “It will symbolize wiping the slate clean after the Jerry Sandusky scandal.”
To me, this is the dumbest possible reason to change uniforms. Why in the world would you change outfits that you have had forever for new digs that everyone would describe as the “Post-Jerry Sandusky Scandal” uniforms if you want to move past said scandal?
It also seems like a cop out to me, like saying, “Those uniforms remind me of Jerry Sandusky, so I don’t want to see or think about them anymore.” “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” is the same attitude that led people in the Penn State administration to avoid reporting Sandusky to the police for years because they didn’t wan to face the reality of the situation.
Obviously, changing uniforms is nothing like staying silent about child sexual abuse but my point is this: Instead of symbolizing moving past the Sandusky scandal, I think new uniforms would symbolize that the new Penn State administration is trying to bury the scandal like the old administration.
Sorry, but there’s no such thing as “wiping the slate clean” or “starting over” after a child sexual abuse scandal. There’s simply great mourning, a search for justice and, eventually, moving forward while vowing something like it will never happen again. If Penn State really wants to use its uniforms as a way to symbolize change in Happy Valley, they should add a blue ribbon on the back of the helmets or the uniforms, not ditch the outfits completely.
This point I can at least understand. College football these days is about spread offenses, multi-million dollar football complexes and liquid-medal football helmets.
And if you’re a program with a long history of losing, new uniforms are looked at as a program taking the next step. So when Rutgers overhauled their uniforms recently, former players like Ray Rice viewed the uniform change as the culmination of what they’ve now built the program to become.
This just in: Penn State isn’t Rutgers.
Let me know if guys like John Cappelletti, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Todd Blackledge, Pete Giftopoulos, Ki-Jana Carter, LaVar Arrington and Paul Posluszny feel the same way about the idea of new sleek-looking uniforms while the unis they wore while building one of the best college football programs in America are thrown into the dumpster.
If I’m a former Penn State football player, I would take the idea of new uniforms that cater to recruits and bury part of the past as a slap in the face to everything I’d helped the school accomplish and a way of the program telling me, “You’re not needed anymore” when it came to supporting the program.
And as any coach will tell you, you’re dead in the water if you don’t have the support of a program’s former players on your side when you start a new job..
Like I said, Penn State can knock itself out with Pro Combat uniforms as much as it likes in the Bill O’Brien era. For all I care, they can wear 12 different uniforms this fall. But don’t change the permanent Penn State uniforms for reasons that are short-sighted and half-baked.
Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears Mondays and Wednesdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.