Tonight Ohio State plays Penn State under the lights at Ohio Stadium. In any rational world, that would be exciting enough. Two big-time, tradition-rich programs matching up in prime time, with a lot on the line — the winner stays in contention for a spot to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, and the loser probably doesn’t.
But these days colleges and their athletic departments — prodded by corporate sponsors and marketers — are always looking to up the ante. So tonight, Ohio State will host a “Black Out,” where all of the people attending are encouraged to wear black gear and the hope is to see the Horseshoe, and its 110,000 occupants, blanketed in darkness. It’s a pretty cool idea, and definitely a departure from the standard look of the Stadium, where scarlet and gray are the dominant colors. I’m sure it will help the attendees get even more amped up for the game.
But there’s a hitch — for some people, at least. As part of the “Black Out,” the Buckeyes will be wearing black uniforms with black helmets. Black uniforms? Black helmets? For some members of Buckeye Nation, the very thought is sacrilegious. The traditionalists don’t want Ohio State to become the Midwestern equivalent of Oregon, which always seem to wear different, envelope-pushing (and frequently, in my view, ugly) uniforms in every game. The conservative wing of Buckeye Nation likes the scarlet and gray and simply won’t tolerate any deviation. The progressive wing, on the other hand, says that Ohio State needs to keep up with the competition, and that recruits — lots of whom will be at the game tonight — think black is really a cool color for uniforms. Therefore, they argue, showing the option to wear black uniforms just might tip the balance in the Buckeyes’ favor when the time arrives for five-stars to declare the school of their choice.
I’m in the moderate wing of Buckeye Nation, I suppose. I don’t mind when Ohio State modifies its look from time to time, as in recent years when the Buckeyes have worn “throwback” jerseys that are supposed to honor storied past teams. Black uniforms will be a more significant departure because there’s no “throwback” argument, but if they make for a more exciting experience for recruits and the crowd at tonight’s game and help the Buckeyes to pull out a crucial win, I’m all for it.
On the other hand, I don’t want to make a habit of messing with the Ohio State uniforms. We don’t need to get attention with different color combinations or designs or feathered helmets; we make our statements on the field. Any college football fan who sees the regular uniforms, with their timeless look, knows that they are watching The Ohio State Buckeyes. And after all, Ohio State picked scarlet and gray as its colors back in 1878 because it was a “pleasing combination” — and that remains true 137 years later. There’s a reason why The Buckeye Battle Cry speaks of “Men of the Scarlet and Gray.”