The sports uniform is one the greatest ideas ever in all of sports history. It’s not enough to say what your team name is, but there’s the need to show the identity of your team. This can be achieved by putting the team name or location on the uniform. It can also be something as simple as a single color, such as the yellow jersey signifying the leader of the Tour de France. Ever since the New York Knickerbockers started wearing uniform (pun intended) jerseys in 1849, these shirts have gradually evolved. However, a recent trend has taken this beyond what anyone would expect and it started in a town called Eugene.

Now everyone knows, Oregon athletics is basically bankrolled by Nike and its co-founder, Phil Knight, plus pretty much every sports facility on campus is named for a Knight. Since sports jerseys have become more and more of a fashion symbol and not necessarily showing loyalty to a team, Nike jumped into business by creating a new line for the Ducks football team. Uniform sets used to consist of a home and away style, now the Ducks have upwards of 5 different styles. Whether different sets of uniforms are necessary or not is irrelevant. What matters is what always matters in business and that is money. The Oregon jerseys certainly weren’t made for purely fashion or art purposes.

The plethora of Oregon football jerseys would be bad enough, but it seems more and more teams, college more then any other it seems, are scrambling to jump on the bandwagon. For the pro level, practically all NHL uniforms were completely redesigned in 2007 by Reebok. Addidias even has the Techfit line for sports of all levels.  This trend has been around for years, but it seems that lately it is becoming more and more of an issue.

No one example personifies this more then the jerseys worn by Maryland football in their recent game against Miami. It doesn’t matter that it was inspired by the state flag, because they were so eye-catching that the game itself was overshadowed. People were discussing how bad or good the design was, not the big plays of the game. The state flag as inspiration is a nice idea, but the team represents the university, not the state, therefore the uniform should have school logos/colors etc. The fact this redesign was paid for by Under Armour speaks to a larger issue in college sports. Is the jersey to promote the team or the sponsor? Are apparel companies having too much say in how college sports teams present themselves? This tight association is a troublesome indicator of the corporatization of college athletics.

There are plenty of examples of this jersey redesign too numerous to mention. I touched on Arizona State in my College Football Week 2 column, but other schools are trotting their new designs that really have nothing to do with school mascots or colors. These are the things that define teams and programs. The Miami ‘U’, the Michigan block M, the Stanford tree are just a few examples of designs that stand for the team as a whole. Some would hope that this trend of redesigning school sports uniforms that had its genesis at Oregon will not end up with the symbols we cheer for replaced by garish versions or corporate logos.