American Strict Uniform Rules?  Why?!

Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N

Earlier today, Nestor gave us a good update on Neuheisel and Carroll's plan to bring back the home and home uniform tradition for our rivalry game.  I had some thoughts on the topic (which ran a bit long), and per N's request, those comments are now this full-blown post.

And it looks like I'm not the only one at BN with a bit of an interest in uniforms (it's an aesthetics thing).  So, first, I'm going to begin with this picture:


Image credit: Los Angeles Times

Now, as N pointed out in his post, there appears to be a hiccup in the plan to have both Neuheisel and Carroll work around the rules to make it happen: 

"The rules, right now, make it a little tenuous because you have to forfeit a timeout,'' Neuheisel said. "We were both of the mind that you only had to forfeit a timeout in the first half, but we were told that we would have to forfeit a timeout in both halves, and that's a little scary in a game that matters that much."

And, unless the Pac-10 is willing to bend the NCAA rules a bit to make this happen, it looks like once again, we'll be subjected to boring old white-versus-home-colors.

Which brings us to problem itself: the NCAA rule that requires visiting teams to wear white uniforms.  The rule itself, Rule 1-4, Article 3(a) states, in relevant part:

Players of opposing teams shall wear jerseys of contrasting colors, and the visiting team shall wear white jerseys. White jerseys may be worn by the home team when the teams have agreed before the season.

As much as we dislike the NCAA around here, they're not the only ones with these kinds of stupid rules.  You're all familar with the following list and standard uniform conventions:

MLB: Home team wears white, away team wears gray (except for SD which wears sand rather than gray), and teams may wear a colored alternate uniform
NFL: Home team wears colored uniforms, away team wears white (there are some exceptions, such as Dallas, but one team must always be in white)
NBA: Home team wears white, away teams wears a colored uniform (there are some notable exceptions, such as the Lakers with their home yellows and white alternates)
NCAA FB: Same as NFL
NCAA BB: Same as NBA

America is pretty used to this enforced uniform code. We've become so accustomed to this system, most fans can instantly tell by uniform alone which team is home and which is away with a quick glance at the screen.  The knowledgeable fans can even (sometimes) tell the day of the week by uniform alone (the Lakers wear their alternate whites on Sunday and most MLB teams wear their colored alternates on Sundays).

But, why is it this way?  As Rye pointed out, the origin of this rule is television:

The reason that such rules exist in the US about one team wearing white is because of TV. When the rule was made there was only black and white TV and one team needed to wear white so viewers could differentiate between the two teams. Black and white TV is why refs wear black and white striped shirts too. It’s an antiquated rule, but it’s become tradition here.

Well, I'm willing to bet all of us are watching in full color now.  Since TV isn't the problem anymore, there's only two real reasons these antiquated rules are still in effect: (1) to aid the players tell who is on their team and who isn't (and to a lesser extent, help the fans identify which team is which) and/or (2) merchandising considerations, in that, the more jerseys a team wears, the more jerseys teams can sell to fans.

When you look at these two reasons though, they don't hold up.  These reasons shouldn't be standing in the way of tradition.

Reason 1: Aiding Players In Identifying Their Teammates

It simply makes no logical sense.  First, let's begin with the children.  I'm sure a lot of you, in your childhood, played youth soccer, Little League, Pop Warner, or some other organized youth sport.  Likewise, I bet some of the older members of BN have kids who play or played organized youth sports.  Now, when I was a kid (which was about 15-20 years ago), in every sport I played, we got just one uniform.  Period.  Just one.  There was no home jersey.  No away jersey.  Just one uniform.  Whoever was in charge of the league and uniforms made sure every team ended up with a different color.  I'm pretty sure the economics of youth sports hasn't changed and things are the same way.  At least it sure looks that way:


Image credit: Salt Lake County, Utah - Parks & Recreation

So, 5-10 year old children are able to wear colored uniforms and tell who is on their team and who isn't.  I can't recall a time that was ever a problem for me (the only time I've seen it happen is pick-up basketball at Wooden, where a bunch of guys who don't know each other and who are wearing similar colors (as one would expect there were lots of white, gray, and blue t-shirts) inadvertantly pass the ball to the wrong guy for a turnover.  I don't think that really counts, does it? 

It seems reasonable that if children can wear colored uniforms and not have problems that adult, professional athletes should be able to do the same.  Unless we assume at 18, our professional athletes magically become dumber than children.

But we know that's not true.  We need look no further than across the pond to see how it works for other pro athletes.  Those of you who caught the UEFA Champions League final saw Manchester United, in their famous red kits (uniform in football-speak) put Chelsea, in their blue kits, to the sword in Moscow.  Now, it seems reasonable that if a bunch of guys who don't share the same first language (Utd's starting eleven that night included a Dutchman, a Frenchman, a Serbian, six Englishmen, an Argentine, and a Portugese) can wear colored uniforms against another team wearing colored uniforms and not have problems, there's no real reason it can't be done here in the States, where most of our pro athletes speak the same language.

Reason 2: Merchandising (Making Money for the Ownership)

The current system favors merchandising, and thus, generates revenue for the team and its owners (or in the case of college sports, the NCAA and its member schools).  If a team wears multiple uniforms, that's more uniforms you can sell to fans.  I admit to it myself.  I'm the proud owner of an Oakland A's home hat (with the yellow bill and white A's), an Oakland away cap (solid green with a yellow A's), and even the old Oakland spring training hat (with the elephant behind the sun).  So, somewhere, someone in Oakland is happy they got me to spend $75 (3 hats at $25 per) rather than just $25.

So, one would assume that American owners would be reluctant to give up such a regime that favors expanding their merchandising opportunities.  Yet, when you again look across the pond, you'll see that this system doesn't stifle those merchandising opportunities.

Again, let's look at Man Utd (if you can't tell by now, they're my team of choice).  Besides being my team, they're a pretty good point of comparison.  Their uniforms are made by our very own Nike and they're owned by the Glazer family, who happen to also own the Tampa Bay Bucs.  Now the Glazers, being familar with the NFL before buying Utd, are pretty familar with the American uniform and merchandising regime.  Shortly after taking over, Glazer changed the Bucs lame orange and white uniforms to the current red, black, and pewter scheme we see today.

But Glazer made no move to change United's kit or logo.  Why?  Because there was no need, despite the lack of similar mandatory uniform rules.  In European football, there is no rule that a team must wear "away white" or anything similar.  As I discussed above, teams often play in colored jerseys, as you can see below:


Image Credit: The Sun (UK)

For those keeping score at home, that's Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the opening goal of the Champions League final against Chelsea this year.

But I digress.  Back to my point.  As you can see, there is no mandatory white or away jersey rules in European football.  Despite this, Man Utd (or for that matter, Chelsea, Inter, AC Milan, Barca, and Celtic) has no problem selling merchandise.

Man Utd is one of the world's most supported clubs.  It's estimated they have around 330+ million supporters (including yours truly).  By comparison, the Census Bureau estimates the United States has a current population of around 304,712,000+ as of the date I post this.  Which means, to me at least, that Utd has as much, if not more, fan support than the entire NFL.  At the very least, it means Utd has more fan support than any individual NFL, NBA, or MLB franchise.

So, one would think that United, being a very large club with an American owner, Nike uniforms, and a huge fan base, many of whom are die-hard and more willing to spend for their club, would want to tap into this merchandising boon and engage in the same kind of uniform merchandising that is done in the United States.

Well, they do. In fact, United just replaced its all-black away kit with a new (and ugly) white and blue away kit.  And like American franchises, United added a third alternate uniform (which isn't bad looking, I suppose).

So, even without strict uniform rules (such as the NCAA's 1-4, Art. 3), Man Utd, the Glazers, and Nike are pulling out all the stops in an all-out war to merchandise.  Just like they do here in the States.  And, best of all, it's working for Man Utd without the rule.  Man Utd is doing just fine in terms of merchandising and turning a profit.  It appears English fans, who as I said before, tend to be more die-hard than their American counterparts (except for maybe the Raider Nation) are complying, buying up new uniforms whenever Nike rolls out another United kit.

The most interesting part of this though, is that United sells plenty of its away and third kits, despite the fact, and this is key, United wear their "home" red kits every game, except for when they are away and the opposing team also wears home reds or a shade close to red (for example when United play Liverpool at Anfield or when United play Aston Villa at Villa Park).

American teams, on the other hand, play 50% of their games in their home uniform and 50% in their away uniform (unless they play an odd number of games in their final playoff series, but we're talking a one game difference here).

Yet, European football teams have no problem merchandising their gear, despite the fact they wear their other uniforms only when necessary.  So, apparently, the financial implications don't justify the mandatory uniform rules either.

Wrapping It Up

When you look at the two main reasons American sports impose the antiquated uniform restrictions, it doesn't fly.  Most importantly, it stifles traditions like our home-and-home with U$C.  It seems kind of stupid that these rules don't have exceptions for situations like this.

Besides, don't you think this looks kind of cool (and would look pretty cool on HDTV):


Image credit: ViewImages

I mean, regardless of what you think of soccer, I think the colors appeal to the eye more than, say, this: 


Image credit: NFL

Wow.  A lot of navy blue and white. Kind of boring, if you ask me.  Now compared to watching the Manchester derby, with United in red and City in light blue, is classic.  Absolutely classic.  And it would be just a memory if the Premiership adopted an idiotic rule like American sports have.

Now, I'm not advocating getting rid of the white uniforms.  I think some of them look pretty cool.  In fact, I love our away whites now that the numbers are in the right shade of blue.  I think they look pretty good.  And they look good when we're playing, say, at Palo Alto or Corvallis.  But, when we go to the Mausoleum, we should be in our home blues.  That's how it used to be and how it should be from here forward.

But, unfortunately, I don't think we'll be seeing mustard-and-ketchup in the Rose Bowl or our perfect blue and gold in the Mausoleum in the immediately future. Why? Because the NCAA and Pac-10 are in charge and when does either ever make a decision that makes logical sense?

Finally, since I opened with a great image, it would only make sense to close with another great image:



Image credit: ViewImages

Let's hope we see more images of Bruins in blue celebrating in the end zone, in both the Rose Bowl and the Mausoleum.


This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.

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