Wasted On The Young

Editorial note: Once again, due to unavoidable scheduling conflicts, this week’s Friday Feature is hitting the site after the usual publication time. Further apologies for any resulting inconvenience or disappointment.

Football, as we all know, is a brutal sport. Abuse of body parts comes with the territory–even for the fans. And for those of us watching the games these days, no body part gets more abuse than our eyes.

Embed from Getty Images

The worthies at Oregon State provided further proof of that truism last night with the uniforms they wore against Stanford.

The DFR: FootballThe trend towards rough-on-the-eyes athletic wear has been going on so long now that it can’t be called a trend anymore–now it’s just the nature of things. Colleges far and wide have succumbed to the notion that, in order to appeal to the recruits they need, they must redesign their unis to meet the “ain’t it cool” expectations of the Generation AA* blue chips.

The “leaders” in this field are undoubtedly the Beavers’ blood rivals, the University of Nike Ducks. Being a wholly owned subsidiary of the sports equipment behemoth has giving the athletic department at Oregon a major leg (wing?) up in the race to offend the sight of any viewer who isn’t as callow as the players themselves. No wonder, then, that Oregon State would be willing to commit this evening’s visual crime. Rivalries will make you do crazy things.

Today’s showy uniform designs come at the cost of developing a generation of young people who are utterly convinced that they are the end all, be all of everything. Their whims, their tastes, their idea of what matters…is all that matters.

Having said all that, all things considered, OSU’s uniforms aren’t really all that bad. Other schools, even some with notable athletic histories–I’m looking at you, UCLA–have gone to much more ridiculous lengths to “distinguish” themselves in the apparel battles. But the Beavers’ outfits are still bad–not just distractingly bad while you’re watching the game, but also just plain bad on their own terms.

Your humble correspondent, in his day job, is a graphic artist; specifically a production artist, but nevertheless I know a thing or two about design. And Oregon State’s uniforms fail not just as football uniforms–in particular, college football uniforms–but simply as a design project.

For one thing, your logo–that is, your organization’s identity–is crucial. Oregon State’s logo–a stylized beaver’s head–is actually a pretty good design. Why then would they want to do the design such a disservice by putting it on the helmets they wore this evening? Take a look at the OSU player’s helmet in the picture above; thanks to the helmet’s super glossy finish, its excessive decoration, and its various structural features (irregular surface, holes for ventilation, chinstraps), it’s almost impossible to actually see the logo unless you’re looking at it at just the right angle.

In any design project involving identity, consistency and clarity are the preeminently desirable traits. That’s exactly what you don’t get from Oregon State’s helmets. In the corporate world, such a poor implementation of a logo would get the art director sent back to the ideation stage, and perhaps even fired from the project.

So much for clarity. Oregon State’s uniform designers–Nike, by the look of it–also botched the consistency angle. If you look at the Oregon State logo as painted in the middle of the Reser Stadium field–it was impossible to keep from noticing this throughout the game–the orange hue painted on the playing surface is a significantly lighter shade than the orange of the uniforms. (I couldn’t find a good photo of the midfield logo, but you can see a touch of the lighter orange on the field in the photo below.) Again, with identity, consistent use of color is a big, big deal. If you’re going to chuck your traditional uniforms for a new, arguably hipper look, the least you can do is to do the job right and properly reproduce the school’s colors.

Embed from Getty Images

Naturally, the larger question is, why ditch your traditional look at all?

Sure, there’s the marketing angle; as with pro teams, college athletic departments want to sell paraphernalia and thereby make money. But honestly, wouldn’t they be selling those jerseys anyway? Even back when I was in college, ages ago, incoming freshmen raced to the campus store and bought various and sundry of their school’s branded junk–sweatshirts, stickers, hats, you name it. Schools have a built-in, ever-renewing market for their merchandise; they hardly need to generate sales through constant revisions to their look.

But you won’t get those awesome, next greatest thing recruits if you don’t have the dopest togs for them to show off in on Saturday afternoons, right? Funny, but Alabama–who have not changed their uniforms appreciably since Bear Bryant’s time–seem to have been doing all right during Nick Saban’s tenure. The Buckeyes at that other OSU, Ohio State, take the field in unis that Woody Hayes would have no problem recognizing; they seem to be having some success lately, too. Florida State, Louisiana State, Michigan, and Michigan State have not appreciably changed their look over the years, and–with the exception of the Wolverines, who were faltering prior to hiring Jim Harbaugh–they have had notable success within our lifetimes. Even Stanford–which has committed its own sartorial atrocities with its black “alternate” unis–has been able to achieve recent success, mostly while looking good in their traditional outfits, such as  the cardinal and white outfits they wore last night against the Beavers. An intelligent person might draw the conclusion that crazy uni designs don’t do jack for your success on the field.

So, if it’s neither sales nor recruiting, what do schools get out of this nonsense? A better question might be, what do they–and we–lose when colleges kowtow to this fashion fatuousness?

I understand that, if you complain about such things as new uniform designs–or anything that appeals to the youngsters–all anyone hears is a lot of “get off my lawn” grousing. But you have to wonder: doesn’t any of it–the traditions; the accomplishments of those who came before; an identity that goes back further than yesterday; being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself–doesn’t any of it mean anything to anyone any more?

It’s easy to blame the kids; to be sure, no high schooler coming into a college should bring an attitude with him until he proves something on the field. There wouldn’t really be anything wrong with telling these kids, “Shut up and wear what we tell you to wear.” Because, however talented they may be, they are still kids; they should be listening to and respecting their elders, not the other way around.

But really, it’s the elders who must take the blame; they should have the courage to say no to this nonsense. Saban and Urban Meyer, for all their flaws, have demonstrated that exercising authority is not dead, and that flamboyant uniform designs make no difference on the field. Why are so many coaches, athletic directors, and administrators abdicating their responsibility to teach these young people that their teams, their schools–and yes, their uniforms–represent something that’s greater than themselves and older than just last week?

Today’s showy uniform designs come at the cost of developing a generation of young people who are utterly convinced that they are the end all, be all of everything. Their whims, their tastes, their idea of what matters…is all that matters. And if five Oregon State Beavers were consensus All-America players before the turn of this century? Well, screw them–they’re old, or dead, and they didn’t look as cool as we do. Truly, youth is wasted on the young.

Oregon State lost, convincingly, to Stanford last night, 42-24. But they’re not the only ones who lost. Given the way the sports world is going these days, all of us are coming up on the short end of things.

*For the uninitiated, I call young people–roughly, anyone younger than 27 or so–Generation AA (pronounced “Generation Double A”) because every time I have to deal with them I wind up wanting to beat them with a sock full of batteries.


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