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VOL. 37 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 23, 2013

Hot, trendy threads keep Vols in style

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Last week, the University of Tennessee succumbed to college football’s dark side.

Actually, I should say its gray side.

The Volunteers last week joined an ever-growing number of college football programs following the trend of bucking tradition in favor of a flashy alternate jersey. The new alternate uniforms, which the Vols will don once at a to-be-determined game at Neyland Stadium this fall, were dubbed “smokey gray.”

Of course, this decision was done in the name of recruiting and in the name of selling a few extra jerseys in the process.

We have the Nike’s Phil Knight and the University of Oregon’s retina-burning kaleidoscope of uniforms to thank for this latest craze in college football.

Others have followed suit with lesser success (think about the horrendous duds the University of Maryland wore a while back) but it looks as if the trend is here for the long haul.

The big question is why a school with a powerful traditional brand like Tennessee would go down this road simply to be hip with the times. In the past, the Vols have used black in their color scheme occasionally, but for the most part, UT has left well enough alone regarding anything Big Orange. After all, the Vols and Vol fans like to think of themselves as one of the titans in college football’s hierarchy, the past five years or so notwithstanding.

In other words, Tennessee has the tradition, fan support and recognizable logos and colors that align it more closely with the Alabamas, Texases and Penn States of the college football world than with the upstarts like Oregon and Boise State, who have latched onto the notion that louder is better.

Regarding new uniforms and adjusting the color schemes, Bobby Burton of 247Sports notes that “This is the new arms race in college football.”

Burton points out that since Oregon was able to brand itself with the loud and lavish look, while at the same time becoming a top five program, that there is no doubt that others were bound to jump on board that bandwagon.

What the Vols apparently hope to accomplish – besides fans rushing to the gift shops to clad themselves in smokey gray – is really to get any edge they can in the dog-eat-dog world of recruiting.

While I think the best recruiting tool available is still winning conference and national championships, - Alabama isn’t about to unveil its alternate lime green jersey anytime soon - Tennessee hasn’t exactly been overflowing in that regard of late. Going through four coaches in less than a decade will do that.

That 1998 national championship is nice, but it doesn’t play well in the living room of a high school junior who was two years old when it took place and doesn’t know the difference between Tee Martin and UT-Martin.

To Kevin Ryan, who is part of GoVolsExtra, the alternate jersey is a positive, because it does appeal to recruits, and it is another way to reach out to impressionable prospects to try and lure them to Knoxville, as Butch Jones and the administration try to rebuild in the unforgiving environment of the SEC where a couple of down seasons can quickly lead to a program becoming downtrodden.

“My take is that it is as much about recruiting as anything. They have a lot of momentum on that front right now, and have done an amazing job with a top-five class even though the results on the field haven’t been good in recent years,” Ryan said. “You take something like this, and it creates a buzz not just with this class, but with the recruits for 2015 as well.

“I think they’re starting to consider and kind of listen to the players and what they want, while sticking to their tradition at the same time. It’s kind of a win-win in my book.”

And while the traditionalists may balk at the alteration, if in the end, it in some small way helps Tennessee recapture its tradition of winning football, I have a feeling that the newfangled uniform will be a gray area Vol fans can live with.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is a blogger for National Football Post.

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