Penn State's staple over the years has been their traditional football uniform thriving on simplicity. But as the game of college football and the importance of recruiting continues to evolve, and Nike is playing a key role at many schools looking to freshen things up a bit. Given the strong relationship between Penn State and Nike, the Nittany Lions should open their ears to any advice Nike may be able to lend. If and when that happens, fans should not be on high alert ready to cry "Blasphemy!"
The truth is that college football recruiting is a different game than it used to be, and a number of recruits are shown new uniform combinations as a recruiting tool like never before. Oregon remains the textbook example of how uniforms can lure the interest of top athletes. Many have tried to duplicate this philosophy and there have been some mixed results. Some schools, like Maryland, have tried too hard to be the east coast Oregon, while others have taken up Nike's efforts to rebrand their product.
My suggestion is that Penn State not necessarily re-brand their athletics department, but allow Nike a little room to work with on a new uniform design. It may be a difficult concept for many longtime fans to understand, but it is possible for Nike to design a uniform that is both an upgrade and respectful to the traditions of the program and school.
Giving Nike an opportunity to see what they can do will surely generate instant buzz for the program and for Nike. It would be in Nike's best interests to design a uniform that dazzles and impresses without turning off the majority of their consumers following Penn State. With the history between the two, it would be unlikely Nike would just slab a couple design elements together and hand it over. Any design would be carefully constructed to stay inline with Penn State's expectations and standards while at the same time giving the uniform new life. Nike has shown they are capable of doing just that as often as they have missed on others. What would be the harm in seeing what Nike can come up with just once? If it stinks, then it will never see the light of day again. But if it is a success, it could become a regular recruiting tool for years to come.
This week Oregon State showed off their new athletic uniforms designed by Nike in a re-branding effort designed to attract recruits. The school stayed true to the history of the program and did not go overboard with the new uniforms and athletic branding. Oregon State and Nike collaborated for two years to find a solid middle ground between preserving the school's standards and a breath of fresh air. What resulted was a uniform package that looks like a solid upgrade from head to toe, literally.
“Nike has a long-standing relationship with Oregon State Athletics and it has been an honor to work with them on their new brand identity,” said Todd Van Horne VP and Creative Director for Nike Football and Baseball. “This new update respects OSU’s history and represents their future while creating separation and distinction in college sports.”
Nike has had a long-standing relationship with Penn State as well, which is well documented at this point. Co-founder and CEO Phil Knight spoke at a memorial service for Joe Paterno in 2012, delivering some strong statements directed at the school's leadership. Despite those feelings, Nike and Penn State remain strong partners, with Penn State being one of the top brands on the east coast for Nike's collegiate apparel. Compared to other partner schools, it would appear that Nike has long been respectful of Penn State's traditional look. While other schools have been given the Pro Combat touch from Nike and alternate uniform after alternate uniform, Nike has yet to be given an opportunity to mess with Penn State's patented look.
Penn State doesn't need to go full-Oregon. In fact, keep the current uniforms as they are, with name son the back or not. But if Penn State wants to spice things up a little bit, there are a few tweaks that could easily be done.
Chrome helmet - Reflective chrome is one of the latest trends in college football. Made popular by Oregon (of course), a shiny reflective coat has become a fashionable trend used by a number of schools such as Syracuse, North Carolina and Ohio State. Surely this could be done in a white finish.
Matte helmet - On the other end of the helmet spectrum we have the other popular trend out there, the matte finish. We have seen this in the Big Ten already with Michigan this past bowl season. This may actually be more up Penn State's alley with a less-flashy look. Imagine a matte finish on the standard Penn State helmet, perhaps painted with the uniform number of the player like in the 1970s.
Names on Back - We do not know for sure whether or not Penn State will continue to use names on the back of the jerseys in 2013 or not, but now that the toe has been dipped in the water, why not just take the plunge? It is a minor tweak that may still take some getting used to for many, but if players like this sort of uniform feature, then why not take advantage of it?
What uniform design ideas would you share, if any? Leave your feedback in the comment section below or send me a message on Twitter.