How Big-Time College Football Is Like Walmart

Writing for Business Insider, Cork Gaines has surveyed “All the Crazy College Football Uniforms for This Season” [http://www.businessinsider.com/new-college-football-uniforms-2013-8?op=1].

On its surface, the article seems a survey of an aspect of the sport that has become increasingly eccentric, almost a gimmicky trademark for some teams.

Long the trendsetter in mutating and eye-popping uniforms, the University of Oregon football team will wear four different uniforms this season:

New Oregon Football Uniforms

To insure that the fans in the stands are properly color-coordinated, the university’s athletic department provides a handy uniform color-chart of its schedule:

Oregon Color-Coded Football Schedule

Each year, the football seems to debut a very singular uniform style that is memorably garish. This year’s entry in the category suggests that the team’s nickname is the Highlighters, rather than the Ducks:

Oregon Highlighter Uniforms

The experiments with the uniform designs go beyond just the jerseys and pants. The team’s helmets have become as wildly innovative as its offensive playbook:

Oregon Rose Bowl Helmets

And this year, even the shoes are kind of astonishing, being made from material that changes color, flashing among the various shades of the school’s colors–black, green, white, and yellow:

Oregon Football Cleats

In fact, there is a whole section on E-Bay devoted to just University of Oregon football cleats: http://www.ebay.com/sch/i.html?_kw=Nike+Oregon+Cleats.

It used to be that teams had just home and away uniforms, but other schools have followed Oregon’s lead. Even at University of Kansas, a school known much more as a basketball power than a football power, the team will wear five different helmets this season:

U Kansas Football Helmets

But before you complain about the expense involved in all of this presto-chango uniform styling, it’s all more than paying for itself. In fact, it’s a merchandizer’s dream. There is a web site devoted to the sale of University of Oregon football jerseys that includes more than 100 jersey styles—reflecting all of the styles worn by the team for the past decade and also including commemorative jerseys for the team’s biggest victories, in both men’s and women’s cuts and sizes [http://www.oregonducksjerseys.com/]:

Oregon Football Jerseys Site

So, the real issue is actually not the cost of all of this extravagance, but the income being generated by it. When one recalls the cause of the “scandal” that led to the suspension of a half-dozen Ohio State football players and the forced resignation of Coach Jim Tressel, the hypocrisy of NCAA “rules” becomes glaringly obvious. Those players violated NCAA “rules” by trading some signed souvenir jerseys for tattoos. Yes, tattoos.

The next time that someone tries to justify the current system by arguing that amateurism must be protected or that the players at the universities with the biggest programs are being compensated with first-rate educations, tell that defender of the indefensible that Big-Time College Football is literally its own Walmart–and treats its “employees” very comparably.

In the context of the income that Big-Time College Sports is generating, the players are getting the equivalent of a half-a-buck higher than the minimum wage.

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