STILLWATER — Oklahoma State defensive tackle Anthony Rogers has a simple motto when it comes to the Cowboys' new uniforms.
“If you look good, you feel good. And if you feel good, you play good,” Rogers said.
And if by chance the uniform does not look good, fear not. It will change. Every game.
The Cowboys could go almost four seasons without ever repeating a uniform combination.
The players are the ones that ultimately get to flash OSU's new looks — which feature jerseys and pants in orange, white, black and gray and helmets in white, black and gray—but the strategy to feature a slew of uniform combinations goes beyond the product on the field.
It's about marketing. It's about recruiting. It's about branding.
And making change and surprise a major part of that strategy has officially caught on across college football.
“You say you're going to be bold, you're going to be passionate, you're going to be visionary — staying still is not an option,” Arizona State associate athletic director for revenue generation Steve Hank said.
Oregon has been the king of the wide variety of eye-popping looks — some call them brilliant, others call them terrible — for the better part of 15 years.
But this season, OSU has worn black, gray and white. Maryland wore its state flag on its helmet and cleats. Arizona State sported an all-black look and has worn four different helmets. Even Wyoming now has 27 different uniform choices.
There are plenty of reasons for the trend.
It's a way to appeal to student-athletes — both current ones and potential ones.
Wyoming coach Dave Christensen said he approached Nike about adding uniform elements to use as a recruiting tool.
“If you go to a high school now, you're going to see kids with brand new tennis shoes on,” Christensen said. “It's a big deal to have trademarked tennis shoes, clothes, that kind of stuff. I think it's just another avenue to get in front of recruits and get them excited about what we're doing.”
And he's not the only one that thinks uniforms plays a role in the recruiting process.
“Back in high school, I used to like OSU because of the uniforms,” Rogers said. “It's something about that orange and the black. I think the uniforms play a big impact on recruiting for younger high school athletes.”
But schools also look at football uniforms as a platform to market the university's overall vision. Some are selling tradition; others are selling innovation and creativity.
Put OSU and other schools that have debuted new uniforms this season in the second category.
“The whole uniform selection sort of supported that,” OSU director of marketing Kyle Wray said. “It was ‘Hey, let's do something new. Let's do something exciting.' Change is a good thing.”
The simple strategy of selling change appeals to the common football fan, marketing guru and author Seth Godin said. He compares it to when DC Comics makes an alteration to a character and collectible sales skyrocket.
“With something that we need, we don't want it to change at all,” Godin said. “But when it comes to want, all we want in our life is novelty. Novelty is what they're selling.”
And with that change comes increased exposure and an additional topic of conversation.
Last week, ESPN's College Football Final devoted a whole segment to debating the uniform craze, and OSU was highlighted. Maryland's “State Pride” uniforms became a news story. Arizona State was trending nationwide on Twitter when it wore all black against Missouri. Fans on message boards and at tailgate parties can weigh in on what they think their favorite team will wear for the next game.
“When you see it come up on ESPN and they talk about it there, it would cost us millions of dollars in advertising to pay for that,” Wray said. “But it's all free, and it's all because of the change in uniforms.”
Of course, the chance to make money is also involved.
OSU's new contract with Nike, which was amended to reflect the new uniforms, gives the university $1.7 million in athletic apparel over the next two years. And for every Nike replica uniform sold at retail outlets, about $3.50 comes back to the school.
With four jersey options, there is a greater opportunity to sell more.
Godin sees that as the sole driving force behind the uniform trend.
“Things have gone beyond pretending that it's not all about money,” he said.
Whether using a multitude of uniform combinations as a way to sell a brand continues to spread to more college football programs remains to be seen.
But the philosophy has worked for Oregon. The school has more national notoriety than ever, executive senior associate athletic director for development Jim Bartko said, an all-time high in enrollment and a football team that played for the national championship a year ago.
“You look back, and in 15 years, it's kind of amazing what's happened,” Bartko said.
And Wray is happy with the way OSU's new looks have brought an extra bit of attention to the Cowboys in what has so far been a special season.
“Obviously, there's a lot of buzz about it,” Wray said. “That's a really, really good thing. The team looks good and they feel good. We're glad to be able to provide our team with that.”