One alumni’s plea to take control back from the sneaker people.
(Update: 10:27a – Syracuse’s new gray jerseys designed by Nike have been unveiled. Reaction via twitter ranges from “Someone at Nike needs their head examined” to “I’m gagging and vomiting at the same time.” Personally, my expectations were so low, and my respect for the sneaker people so small, the new unis are not nearly the hate crime I figured they would be.
While the gray bulk of the jersey is predictably lame, the Nike fashionistas actually added an entirely orange piping down the side. In our world, that’s a major victory. The rest of the uniform is essentially the regular version – orange neck trim, block “CUSE” in capitalized orange, block orange “S” on the shorts.
Gray actually works well with orange, as opposed to – oh, any other color in the spectrum. Orange is not the easiest color to match with anything. White, black, blue, gray is basically the list of compliments to orange. In this regard, the sneaker people were lucky.
Because above all else, no matter if you love the uniforms or not, the reality is that these are not Syracuse’s new uniforms. They’re Nike clients’ new ones.
“Each of the nine programs selected have won NCAA Championships in Nike apparel. In addition to Syracuse, the participating schools include Arizona, the Baylor women’s team, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Connecticut (men’s and women’s) and North Carolina.”
Well, halle-friggin’-lujah, we’re part of the lucky nine. This is not about a relationship between Nike and Syracuse where the sneaker people uniquely craft a uniform specifically for the school. There is no thought of the characteristics of SU, its fanbase, or tradition. It’s a mass fashion line, like Haggar redesigning their khakis or the GAP rereleasing its sweaters. The Orange uniform change is the same change the Baylor women are going to get. Think about that.
I honestly pity Daryl Gross and Nancy Cantor and whoever else should have the final word on these things. They have no voice and no backbone when it comes to the sneaker people. They signed a contract which brings the athletic department major money, are lumped in with other “elite programs,” and probably rationalize to themselves “We are getting new uniforms just like Duke! Wheee!” Meanwhile, they have zero ability to say no, because the power and influence of a billion-dollar athletic footwear corporation that “knows best” is telling them what sells.
God forbid our jerseys reflect something Syracuse-centric. And don’t give me the ridiculous Hall of Languages “sweatback” under the numbers. Marquette and a host of other schools incorporate the same idea. We’re just like every other tween, looking across the lunch table at what the “cool kids” are wearing, and begging mom to buy us the same exact outfit.
The uniforms are not horrific. Wearing them once against USF won’t kill anyone. I’m sure there are some SU fans that think they’re cool. My concern is the inability to ever say no to the almighty Nike gurus. This entire song and dance gives me less hope than ever. At one time, the Nike people told SU orange-on-orange-on-orange was a good football look. Now, it’s an even better idea to resemble UConn and Georgetown. Will someone at Syracuse ever tell Nike no?
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With the newest Syracuse jersey whispers predicting a gray version will be unveiled soon, it’s time to ask ourselves, “Where does it stop?” Orange fans have largely resisted Nike’s constant uniform tweaks over the last five years. However, we’ve been blessed by some terrific basketball, and jerseys look pretty good no matter what when walking off the floor after wins. So, we’ve generally let it go, outside of a continuous low grumble.
Taken in small samples, the current Syracuse basketball jerseys are not revolutionary. Plenty of teams wear the sleeveless, muscle shirts these days. It says “Orange” in – amazingly – orange. And the new block “S” adorns the baggy shorts.
But when compared to the past lineage of SU’s dizzying array of awesome jerseys, one thing is painfully clear: the current crop is the low point of Syracuse fashion. It lacks elegance, uniqueness, or a nod to history. It’s blocky, and uninspired, and (forgive me while I throw up) incorporates silver.
The 1980s unis still hold up unbelievably well, and not just for nostalgic purposes. Orange script “Syracuse” has always been a personal favorite, orange numbers, orange piping down the side. The mid-90s John Wallace jerseys? Orange “Syracuse” across the top, orange numerals, orange trim. The Carmelo duds? Not only are these the only national championship jerseys, but again, they were primarily orange.
(For what its worth, I own a Sherman Douglas, Lawrence Moten and Jason Hart jersey. One from eBay, one from the Salvation Army, one from Manny’s. You can guess which came from where.)
So how did SU administration allow Nike to surreptitiously plant silver in the uniforms? And why have the uniforms gone so far out of whack with what the heritage of Syracuse basketball has been? And how in holy hell is the ORANGE going to roll out gray uniforms?!
I’ll tell you how: Because the people making the jersey decisions are being motivated by focus groups and fashion trends and marketing numbers, and have absolutely zero connection to the university itself. The same people who are feeding Gross and Cantor Syracuse’s fashion advice, are telling Oregon to put wings on its shoulder pads and Marquette to place a shadow of campus on its jersey backs.
There is no understanding of where we came from, or what’s important to the fanbase. The fashionista who is working on gray uniforms for Syracuse graduated from USC, owns a labradoodle in her downtown loft in Portland, and couldn’t tell you the Hall of Languages from Rosetta Stone.
But who’s fault is that? The Syracuse administration, for allowing big business to run them over with a dollar-and-cents bulldozer. Where’s the school backbone to say, “Send that mockup back to 6th Avenue. We’re not doing anything that looks like – blecch – Georgetown.” If you want Nike to help you push product, or market to a younger generation, or help bring SU’s uniforms into the new millenium, more power to you. But you employ them. Not the other way around. It always feels like its the tail wagging the dog.
First, we went from Orangemen to Orange. Then we incorporated the ever-expanding block “S” at midcourt that will soon extend to the 300 level. Now we’re looking more like the Hoyas? Where does it stop? When the football team trots out orange-on-orange-on-orange uniforms that make us look like a carrot juicing crime scene? (Oh, that already happened.)
Darryl Gross has helped modernize and monetize an athletic department that was in dire need of both. Nancy Cantor has steered a steady ship amidst the Bernie Fine saga. The basketball team is #1 in the country. This is not meant to shred anyone who may be in charge. It’s simply to point out, whoever is in charge, needs to take control back and quit allowing Nike to run its own little Barbie and Ken runway without regard to who we are as a university.
Readers to Syracuse.com have ripped the new idea. Callers to Brent Axe’s radio show on the Score 1260 have lamented looking like UConn and Georgetown. Hey SU: You see those 30,000 people that show up every night in the middle of brutal CNY winters to make you rich? Try listening to them for once.