- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2011


While the sports world ponders whether the Carolina Panthers owner stepped out of bounds by requesting that Cam Newton stay free of tattoos and piercings, I’m puzzled by another matter regarding athletes, aesthetics and appearance.

It’s a guessing game that could entice odds from Las Vegas bookmakers: How long will it take for Maryland’s football team to exhaust every possible combination of its new uniforms? With 32 ensembles to choose from, the Terps don’t have to repeat one until the penultimate game of the 2013 season (assuming there are no bowl appearances between now and then).

Maryland might require a fifth-year senior before it has a single player who’s worn the two different helmets, four different jerseys and four different pants in each permutation.

Of course, the Terps’ sartorial selections still pale in comparison to the Oregon Ducks, who have a whopping 80 combinations at their disposal. What Nike did for the Ducks in making them football fashionistas — admired or abhorred, but always acknowledged — Under Armour is attempting with the Terps.

None of this thrills new Maryland coach Randy Edsall, whose definition of old school harkens thoughts of “Little House on The Prairie.” There’s little doubt that he considers Penn State’s plain-Jane duds much more appealing than Maryland’s hot-mama threads. And he certainly must endorse the Nittany Lions’ decision to remove players’ numbers from their helmets in 1974, after they were added in 1968.

What was Nike thinking in approaching JoePa about donning a “Pro Combat” alternate uniform for one game last year? (He refused). Never mind; silly question. The Swoosh was thinking about all the cha-ching, just like the several schools that don the space-age suits each year. Some look better than others, but they all draw more media attention for the schools and more merchandise options for the stores.

Now that Maryland has been recast as ‘Oregon East,’ the dizzying array of outfits needs to do more than catch recruits’ eyes. It needs to catch their signatures, too, on letters-of-intent. As much as old-timers prefer the classic red-and-white look, the more-important opinion belongs to 18-year-old players, who typically prefer more flash and variety than their parents and parents’ parents.

The unis will earn Maryland a second look, but it might not be enough once Edsall’s policies draw further inspection. He bans earrings. He disallows facial hair that doesn’t meet his standard. He prohibits do-rags and baseball caps inside the Gossett Football Team House. And he issues jerseys that don’t include names on the back.

What, players don’t have to remove their tattoos?

I get it; Edsall likes discipline that resembles the military’s culture more than, say, the music industry. And he has every right to demand as much and punish players who go astray. I agree with a lot of it, too, especially not wearing hats indoors. I’d also institute a no-sagging rule. But I’d allow players to wear one earring (not two and no hoops), since the solitary stud has gained virtually unopposed acceptance within mainstream America.

As for the jerseys, I don’t see any value in Edsall’s “playing for the name on the front” stance. All it does is create more work for fans and viewers.

“Hey, who’s No. 5 who just completed that beautiful pass?” Jane Doe asks. “That’s Danny O’Brien,” answers John, consulting his roster. “I heard he’s pretty good.”

If No. 5 equals Danny O’Brien, and Danny O’Brien equals No. 5, then removing either means of identification doesn’t change a thing.

So why bother, especially if that triviality might be enough to dissuade a blue-chipper from signing with the Terps? If you say the name thing isn’t a big deal, I agree — but that merely reinforces my position that it’s not a worthwhile endeavor.

Maryland’s new uniforms — at least some of the combinations — are super cool, but Edsall is painting the opposite image for himself. That’s fine, because he has to be genuine. If he’s more like Tom Coughlin (one of his former bosses), it wouldn’t make sense to act like Rex Ryan.

True, there probably are players who will be turned off by Edsall’s approach and won’t sign with Maryland as a result. Some of them might be young men of great skill, character and integrity, like Edsall is seeking, who nonetheless prefer a different environment. And that’s fine, too.

Because regardless of earrings, names on jerseys, beards, do-rags and caps, Edsall still has to win games with the players he lands. Keeping them in class and out of the police blotter would be a bonus, as would the absence of NCAA investigators on campus.

The players he scares off won’t be an explanation for underachieving or an excuse for losing.

But the players who suit up will look good, if nothing else.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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