Uniforms don't win games, players do.
You wouldn't know that, though, listening to new Maryland football coach Randy Edsall shill for the Baltimore-based sports-apparel manufacturer that paid his school millions to use its sports teams like so many G.I. Joe and Barbie dolls.
"I'm just so proud of our partnership with Under Armour and them giving us the opportunity to wear all the uniforms we have," Edsall said moments after Maryland beat Miami, 32-24, in the season opener Monday night.
"This was really something special. We wanted to make it special," he added, squeezing in his second plug for free, "because we were on ESPN Primetime and it worked out in our favor this evening."
Turns out that like a NASCAR driver, Edsall was just warming up. When one of the hosts asked the coach what he would say to those who think "you're going a little overboard with the whole look and the colors," Edsall replied, "I would say no way."
Next came a set piece about how the new uniforms incorporated the state colors — so do Happy Meals, for that matter — then he continued: "If there's people that didn't like it, or anything like that, all's I know is that we're just trying to bring everybody together, and it's great to see the uniqueness and the innovation that Under Armour has allowed our kids to wear those great uniforms, because they're very sleek and help us perform better as well."
College sports sold its soul — not to mention its traditions, conference loyalties, and every available inch of the stadium — to corporate interests long ago. Edsall is hardly the first coach lining his pockets by doubling as a pitchman, nor is Under Armour breaking new ground on the sponsorship front. The company has been dressing up more than a few teams already, and just like rival Nike and its boss, Oregon alum Phil Knight, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who played football at Maryland, has decided to make his alma mater his flagship program.
Over the last two years, Plank has donated more than a million and often loaned or chartered a plane for the Terrapins' use, including , apparently, the nearly $40,000 flight on Jan. 2 that whisked Edsall from Arizona — just hours after his former team, Connecticut, lost the Fiesta Bowl — to Maryland, where he was hired late in the day.
Small wonder the coach loves the new uniforms; so much so, in fact, that when they were unveiled during a ceremony late in August, practically the first words out of Edsall's mouth parroted the Under Armour slogan, "We must protect this house."
To be fair, there's not a school left in Division I that's expended any effort to protect the sport from commercialism. But that didn't stop Maryland from trying. A spokesman for the athletic department said rather than serving as props for Under Armour, the football team donned the uniforms as a nod to the state's heritage.
That explained why the players came out in one uniform for warm-ups and donned a completely different one before kickoff — apparently costume changes are a Maryland tradition.
"It took about 10 minutes and three to four people to get them on," kicker Nick Ferrara said. "They fit like a glove ... but yeah, it was work."
It was also a marketing coup for both Under Armour and the Terrapins, whose fashion sense would have come under even more criticism than it did had they been steamrolled by Miami, a program with more to worry about than what to wear.
Not coincidentally, the Hurricanes' problems, stemming from allegedly taking money and gifts from an unauthorized booster, also produced one of the best commentaries regarding the uniforms on the night. Someone using the handle "jacko2323" tweeted: "Maryland's uniforms are so bad that a Miami player just said, 'You couldn't pay me to wear those things ... well actually you could.'"
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Money drives every facet of the game in a way once reserved for the professional ranks. Nike's money reversed a century of almost unblemished futility by Oregon's football program, transforming the Ducks into a BCS-worthy contender in a matter of years.
Always on the lookout for new markets to tap, Knight, Nike's founder, noted almost 20 years ago that, "The final game of the NCAA basketball tournament is better than any runway in Paris for launching a shoe. Kids climb up next to the screen to see what the players are wearing."