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The Inspiration Behind Northwestern's Under Armour Jerseys

by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn)

Athletic uniforms have long been viewed as visual tokens of school spirit, symbolic emblems reflecting pride, passion and a collectively-driven purpose to represent academic institutions in a positive, colorful way. These matching outfits come in different hues, styles and brands, ranging from the blatantly ridiculous to the super-boring.

The erratic uniform trend in college sports began in Oregon, under the auspices of Nike CEO Phil Knight, where during head coach Chip Kelly’s tenure the Nike-sponsored Ducks have become as synonymous with high scoring, spread offenses as they have electric gameday kits. Oregon uses more than 15 different combinations of colors and jerseys, each of them, whether intentionally or unintentionally, equally eccentric and eye-grabbing in nature. The Ducks’ fluctuating uniform rotation has largely worked on the recruiting trail, with several blue-chip recruits citing the allure of the Ducks’ uniforms as a reason for their commitment to the school.

Naturally, other sports apparel companies picked up on the trend and offered wacky uniform packages to schools hoping to join Oregon in luring talented recruits with a their own unique brand of sartorial flair. Under Armour stamped its brand on the college football uniforms arms race last fall, when Maryland revealed its pride uniforms in its Labor Day game against Miami. The response was decidedly mixed, though critics were extremely vocal in bashing the color schemes and conflicting patterns. Whether the experiment works or fails in epic fashion, wacky uniforms, at least for some programs, are in.

Uniforms have mostly remained unchanged in the Big Ten, steering astray of the coastal wackiness, with the exception of minor stylistic changes at Ohio State, Michigan State and Minnesota and a few other schools. Northwestern, who announced a partnership with Under Armour in December, is changing uniforms for the 2012 season, and speculation over the new look has already begun. The NU athletic department released a video Monday providing an inside look on the design process for the new uniforms.

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The video is informative as much as it is tantalizing. Under Armour Senior Design Manager Adam Clement describes touring campus on his NU “design trip” and mentiones building arches and ivy as inspiration for uniform patterns and makeup. The underlying theme of Clement's plan is to create 19 different uniforms for 19 different sports, with each representing one "team". Perhaps saddening NU fans desiring radical change for next season, Clement assured the new uniforms would keep to tradition, though he did mention incorporating “the past and telling it in our own way in progressing towards the future.”

Before Under Armour attempts anything too new-age, the NU athletic department will need to sign off on it. So while it’s near impossible to predict what the new gear will look like, it’s hard to think it will approach the radical heights of UA’s radical Maryland Pride uniforms or Oregon’s yellow-green ensembles.