It wasn’t a headline of man bites dog attention-getting, perhaps, but on June 20 our home page’s “Today’s Top Headlines” section had one of the most personally satisfying postings of recent years when we were able to say, “Hooray! NCAA To Implement New Rules On Uniform Colors.” That was a link to this release by the NCAA, which proposed a new rule about uniformity of uniforms. Sounds redundant, perhaps, but it’s not. My column of July ’05 was titled, “Would it be too much to ask to have a uniform uniform-policy?”
At the risk of boring you with material from a dozen-plus years ago, here’s (in part) what I said then, after a great NCAA Championships:
ENOUGH OF THIS RUBIK’S CUBE STUFF! Is there a fan out there that doesn’t want an end to this madness of athletes in uniforms that don’t represent the meaning of the word? “Uniform” means “the same.” And for good reason. So you can tell one athlete/team from another…
Let’s talk about the offenders du jour: the colleges. It pains me to pick on Kerron Clement, because he was probably the most exciting and enjoyable of all to watch in Sacramento. It’s always incredible to be privileged to watch a true superstar in the making. We thought he was so impressive that we made him our poster boy for the month. But he’s also the poster boy for everything that’s wrong in the (not-so) uniform department.
In that big center spread (pp. 32-33), you’ll find him in a black uniform. Très chic. Turn to p. 18 and there he is in a white uniform. While you’re on that spread, look at p. 19 to catch him in blue. But hey, that’s not all. Go back a page to 17 and check out Clement’s teammate, Josh Walker. Is he in black? No. Is he in white? No. So he must be in blue. No—he’s in orange! The Florida team must have a special position known as Uniform Manager. This is the style-conscious dude who chooses who wears what in what race, and packs the 22 extra bags all this finery requires.
I blame pro ball teams, who started this “third jersey” silliness so they could market even more stuff to their fans. Or simply decided that black made them look “tougher.” Well excuse me, but when I go to a meet I expect to see Florida easily identifiable as the guys in some combination of orange & blue, their official colors.
The NCAA does mandate that relay teams wear the same uniforms during a race, but other than that, all bets are off. Hey, I don’t want to see the boys from Indy go nutso on regulations like the HS Federation and penalize people for non-matching underwear or wearing a necklace, but how about at least an official-colors rule? And while you’re at it, how about a regulation that all teammates in the same race have to wear the same uniforms?
How goofy was it to watch that incredible men’s 200 final, knowing that teammates Wallace Spearmon and Tyson Gay were going to be threatening the 20-second barrier just two lanes apart, and to discover that they weren’t even wearing the same outfits? Spearmon was white-over-red, Gay was all-red. What does that do for fan enjoyment?…
Bottom line—the way it’s going, you can’t even tell the players with a program.
Thus my delight at that June 20 headline, although the proposed rules don’t go as far as I’d like. If it’s a single-color body suit it has to be “the primary color of the team,” which is good. The fact that on any given day everybody also has to be wearing the same basic color is also good. What’s not great—at least as currently written—is that that basic color isn’t mandated to be a school color, leaving the door open to people racing in hues that nobody associates with the institution. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
But all in all, a win is a win, and this will be one for the most neglected demographic in our sport: the fans.
Meanwhile, On The International Front
Fans of the international circuit have for years had a uniform gripe as well: too many people wearing the same uniform, making it exceedingly difficult to tell who’s who. The clamor on this reached such a level a few years back that the IAAF was motivated to create a special blue-ribbon task force to look into the problem. I was privileged to join IAAF Council members, meet directors, TV experts, members of the Athletes’ Commission and apparel-company reps for a dialogue on the subject in Marrakech at the ’14 Continental Cup.
The good news there was that 2 days of serious back and forth by all the stakeholders was very enlightening, at least in terms of everyone having a better idea of the problems faced by those having to deal with confusing presentation and also the problem that the shoe giants have with outfitting their international stars.
The bad news is that the summation of what we accomplished was scheduled to pass through multiple layers of bureaucracy. And somewhere there it resides today, as 4 years down the road not another word has been said. I understand that with the Diack scandal and then the Russian problem tossing things completely upside down in Monaco that some lesser projects may have been backburnered, but c’mon… 4 years of silence?
And the fans wait, and wait… oh, never mind that was a city a few miles up the road, Casablanca.
[Coincidentally, the very day after this column was written the IAAF Council met and Seb Coe made this announcement: ""We discussed the need to address the issue of large numbers of athletes at the Diamond League wearing identical kit, which causes confusion for spectators and broadcasters. This has to change and a group has been set up to drive this change.”]