Tate: Color me a fan of new uniforms
If Fighting Illini performance is as snappy as their flashy new uniforms, happy days are on the orange and blue horizon.
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Culminating an 18-month collaboration with Nike, the UI athletic department presented a fashion show at the Krannert Center on Wednesday night featuring 16 varsity athletes in apparel that linked Red Grange to the present.
Nnanna Egwu, Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice appeared on stage in three sets of basketball uniforms with noticeable changes: (1) a zig-zag panel from armpit to the bottom of the shorts and (2) the new branding element, a small victory badge with the Block I and alternating orange and white stripes representing the Memorial Stadium columns.
This badge or shield, along with the Nike swoosh, will appear on every uniform and joins the Block I as the two primary Illini logos.
Some jerseys displayed subtle and barely visible columns running down them.
“This is awesome, very creative,” basketball coach John Groce said. “This was exactly what we were looking for to appeal to current athletes and prospects. These uniforms reel you in, and the fabric is unbelievably light.”
Football squadmen Simon Cvijanovic, Matt LaCosse and Donovonn Young appeared in the three basic colors — orange, navy blue and white — leaving it to the imagination how these colors might complement each other.
The helmets had block I’s on the side and a stripe over the top.
A secondary palette of white, dark steel gray and metallic silver has been added to provide flexibility to the brand.
This new identity will debut with the football and basketball programs next season, and will gradually expand across all sports.
Illinois has an exclusive arrangement with Nike, and receives more than $300,000 annually in addition to $1 million in complementary product.
The 19 Illini teams take turns in updating their apparel.
“We approached Nike two years ago,” athletic director Mike Thomas said, “and got this moving 18 months ago. It was our goal to gain consistency in our brand while meshing the past with a modern look.”
Nike’s Todd Van Horne made Wednesday’s presentation, saying: “Our mission every day is to innovate.”
In this case, input was taken from the campus, athletic administrators, coaches and athletes, and the result is stunning.
There will now be a consistency to the primary colors of sun-orange and sky-blue, the Block I will not vary, and slanted lettering, in some cases multi-colored, will be uniform.
Illinois is one of several FBS programs updating their on-field appearance this year, following a path set by Oregon and the brand enhanced by Nike founder Phil Knight.
If you haven’t come to appreciate tattoos and don’t have two dozen sneakers in your closet, you probably can’t comprehend how much these eye-catching outfits mean to business-side marketing and to the young men who wear them.
— Indiana altered its on-field identity as part of a plan to defuse football negativism, and reported more than 300,000 hits on YouTube.
— Rory McIlroy’s wearing apparel at the Masters was scripted each day by Nike with the Irish golfer donning lightweight innovation polo shirts in four colors: turf orange, vivid blue, black and venom green.
— When Miami’s new look was unveiled, the room became a madhouse with athletes leaping, dancing, roaring and generally acting as though World War III had just ended. It was more controlled here Wednesday.
This all goes back to Oregon, which broke the mold with what football’s old guard, caught in a previous century, might consider outlandish but is simply new-wave fashionable to moderns.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.