Dear Mr. Glass and Coach Wilson,
Let me introduce myself. My name is Tim O'Brien and I am graduate of Indiana, class of 2010. I have long been a Big Ten football fan and a diehard Hoosier fan since first stepping foot on campus. In my relatively short time supporting IU football, I have been witness to the hope that Terry Hoeppner brought, the moving 2007 season, the struggles under Bill Lynch and the disappointing 2011 campaign.
While there may be a lot of bad history over the past few years and - well - decades, hope springs eternal. I believe in IU football and I trust we have the program headed in the right direction on the field.
However, I do believe that Hoosier football is headed backwards in one sense: Aesthetically.
When Coach Wilson came to IU, the Hoosiers came off one of their visually ugliest seasons. By allowing Adidas, and not tradition and a demand for excellence, to dictate our football uniforms, we ended up wearing these hideous, ink-blotted uniforms. Now, they may not have been as bad as when black was a part of the uniform when Randle El was in Bloomington (black is for boiler makers) but the lack of attention to details that plagued IU football on and off the field was visually symbolized by these bad uniforms.
Last season, Coach Wilson - and the football staff - came in, cleaned house and cleaned up the Hoosiers' uniforms. And while they were not bad in any specific sense, these uniforms lacked individuality: Coach Wilson brought not only a wealth of football knowledge from Oklahoma, but their uniforms too.
Let's take a closer look at the two uniforms. Both have red helmets with white facemasks and interlocking '_U' logos. Both have solid red or solid white jerseys that have team nicknames (that confuse people not from that state...) written in block lettering and both wear white pants with red double stripes for every game.
The only defining IU characteristic was a white helmet that, as you can see from this uniform analysis I did, brought us nothing but five losses and an average of 43.4 points against per game. Not good (plus, IU has no recent history in white helmets, just do away with them).
Now, while I understand why this new uniform set was created (1. To visually define a new era. 2. To get rid of those hideous previous uniforms. 3. To remind people of Oklahoma visually, and therefore co-opt their success and tradition. 4. The white helmet let the players have fun mixing and matching.), you were not the first person to do that with Indiana, Terry Hoeppner did it, too.
But not being original shouldn't be the only deterrence. Dressing up like another winning football program to inspire greatness and pride in one's own team is an old - and I would argue, incorrect - way of thinking. Just because you have the winged helmet design doesn't make you Michigan and just because you have a white helmet, you wont all of the sudden play like The U in the '80s.
When thinking about a visual identity, you should always think of Cool Runnings (yeah, I said it). When confronted with an identity crisis, Derice tries to find an identity by co-opting the Swiss team's. Sick of imitating the Swiss, Sanka finally stands up to Derice and explains to him that they cannot win by pretending to be something they're not:
"All I'm saying, mon, is if we walk Jamaican, talk Jamaican and is Jamaican, then we sure as hell better bobsled Jamaican."
What I propose to you is that last year's Oklahoma copycat uniforms were our Swiss team and the double stripe is IU's Jamaica.
What do I mean by, "the double stripe?" Simple. I believe it is uniquely Indiana when the helmet, jersey and pants all feature double stripes (white then a space and then white on red elements, the reverse on white elements).
See for yourself (click on an image to enlarge it):
It is a simple, elegant uniform that is both modern and classic, just like the interlocking IU. The double stripe echoes the proud traditions of the basketball program but still states a unique take on the classic identity. No other team in major college football has a white double stripe on a colored helmet, and yet Indiana has it in its history and tradition.
With this red helmet, you can the extrapolate the uniform from there: White double stripes on the red jersey's shoulders, red double stripes on the white's shoulders; the iconic block 'Hoosiers' remains; a red double stripe on the home white pants; and white stripes on the road red pants. The red road pants are a key that will help define IU's unique image.
I know you might be thinking that all of this is much ado about nothing, or that it's just outright nonsense, but people at the University of Oregon would beg to differ.
Whether or not you think what Oregon (read: Nike) is doing visually with their football uniforms is irrelevant. What is clear is that both proponents and opponents of their aesthetic philosophy agree is that their unique branding and their attention to aesthetic details has brought them from obscurity to national prominence.
The fact that they wear 12 different uniform combinations a season does not make them good at football, but by flashing these shiny objects in front of the eyes of 17 year olds while recruiting and then allowing them to wear these duds as student athletes has gotten them recruits that otherwise would've gone elsewhere. Some of their recruits have even acknowledged this.
Still not convinced that uniforms are a powerful tool in recruiting? Here's a short list of teams who do:
- Notre Dame
- Ohio State
- Michigan State
- Oklahoma State
- Boise State
I could go on, but those teams (all of which played in bowl games this past season) all have played in unique uniforms and/or have played in 'one off' unis, like the Maryland flag uniforms - which were hideous but brought national attention to a program that is otherwise unimpressive.
But unlike Maryland (Under Armour) and Oregon (Nike), IU doesn't have to go the rout of just giving their uniform supplier (in our case, Adidas) free reign, we can go a more classical route, like the one Michigan took this year or what Ohio State has been doing for the past few seasons: Keep a traditional, beautiful uniform as the normal set and sprinkle in some throwbacks, fauxbacks and punchy new designs.
And one doesn't even have to go far from Memorial Stadium to find ideas, you can just look across the parking lot to Assembly Hall.
By taking some of the iconic Hoosier imagery and tradition imbedded in IU basketball, Indiana can adapt and add it to football. Namely, the candy striped pants.
How iconic are the pants? Google "Candy Stripe" and the first result is to Wikipedia which has a definition for it as, " Candy stripe, the warm-up style for the Indiana Hoosiers mens basketball team."
That's iconography you can believe in.
Now you may think those are a bit ostentatious, but Memorial Stadium already features the candy stripes, fans already wear the pants to games and, frankly, people seem to like my concepts with the candy stripes even if they admit that they're not all that practical.
What they are is 'fun', something IU football is rarely described as. And while even I, the guy who came up with this idea, think that these shouldn't be worn every game, it'd be fun to see them once and a while (maybe even around the time of Hoosier Hysteria...?).
Even if this idea is a real nonstarter, throwbacks are always fan favorites. Michigan rolled out a few throwbacks and fauxbacks this past season to much acclaim. Student athletes got cool new uniforms to wear, merchandise stores got new jerseys to sell and alumni got to wistfully remember their days on campus.
The Hoosiers could go back to an Anthony Thompson "Block I" throwback or go even further back to a design from the 1933 season, home or road or anything in between (heck, the Hoosiers wore powder blue in the early '50s). Anything is possible and most anything would be better than what we have now.
What I want most out of my Hoosiers is winning and respectability. I don't need national dominance, I don't need crazy uniform combinations every week and I definitely don't need to watch what feels like the Oklahoma freshman squad. I just want to be proud of how my team - my University - looks when they take the field, both in play and in dress. When I turn on the Hoosiers, just like in basketball, I want to see a team I can recognize as truly 'Hoosiers'.
Because if we walk like Hoosiers, talk like Hoosiers and be Hoosiers, then we sure as hell better play football like Hoosiers.
Tim E. O'Brien
IU Class of 2010