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Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

by: Meghan Rodriguez

If you happened to be on Facebook or Twitter the night of September 5, you most likely saw status updates and tweets referring to Maryland football. But the posts had nothing to do with touchdowns or sacks, and everything to do with the University of Maryland’s uniforms. In its season opener against the Miami Hurricanes, the Terps debuted new Under Armour uniforms and helmets, featuring a never-before-seen design scheme inspired by the Maryland state flag.

Maryland defeated the Hurricanes that night in a surprising 34-24 win, but the team also won off the field. That night, and in the days after, everybody was talking about the hideousness of the uniforms; so much that the topic began trending on Twitter. The uniforms catapulted Maryland athletics into the national spotlight, a place it hadn’t been since its basketball team won the national championship in 2002.

The next day on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, hosts Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser devoted a majority of the show to the uniform discussion.

“There’s no other story; Maryland’s winning doesn’t matter jack to people outside where we live,” Wilbon said. “These uniforms are so ugly, they’re brilliantly ugly, because this is going to set the agenda for what every school in America is going to do with their uniforms. They’re hideous, brilliantly hideous.”

Even CNN, which usually doesn’t cover college football, was stirring up conversation when it interviewed Monte Durham, fashion director, stylist and host of TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. Durham, who normally wouldn’t have any commentary on sports, was actually impressed by the uniforms and commented on their fashionable design elements: “I think while this is totally out of the box, it is fun to see it’s happening in a sports arena.”

The uniforms were in fact hideous, but all the buzz circulating around them and the Maryland football program raised the question: is there such a thing as bad publicity?

Maryland isn’t the first team to wear nontraditional uniforms on the football field. Every Saturday, college football fans tune in to see which of its more than 500 uniform combinations The University of Oregon Ducks will run out of the tunnel wearing. Perhaps that’s what Maryland is attempting with its athletics program.

Just a few years ago, Oregon was irrelevant in the world of college football. Competing in the Pac-10 conference against a prominent University of Southern California team, Oregon needed a way to create its own identity.

The athletic department looked to Phil Knight, CEO of Nike — who just so happens to be an Oregon alum — to re-brand the team’s image. The result was unconventional uniforms featuring unique patterns and duck feathers on the shoulders. People began to take notice and Oregon’s fan base grew. The Oregon duck mascot was even featured in an ESPN Sportscenter commercial. The team started playing better, eventually winning a Pac-10 Championship and competing against Auburn in the 2010 BCS National Championship.

So it seems in the end, everybody’s happy. In a September 7th New York Post article, Lenn Robbins wrote that the uniforms were “exactly what the marketing folks at Under Armour were hoping would happen. They created something really repulsive and let the media provide billions of dollars in free advertising.”

Maryland certainly was happy. Not only did they win the game, but they made news headlines from coast to coast.

Will crazy, unconventional uniforms have the same effect for Maryland as they did for Oregon? The Terps can only hope.

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