As I sat in the press box at Ohio Stadium last Saturday following the Buckeyes’ 28-17 win against Penn State, I kept finding myself looking up to one of the television screens showing USC against UCLA. It wasn’t that this was a compelling rivalry game between two teams from Southern California — the Trojans were up 38-14 at that point — but the visual appeal of the contest kept catching my eye.
If you are unaware, USC and UCLA both wear their home jerseys when they meet in the final regular season game of the year no matter where the game is played. The two teams have done this all but one season since 2008 and prompted an NCAA rule change that permitted them to do so starting in 2009. This tradition goes back further to when both teams played in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum until the Bruins moved to the Rose Bowl in 1982.
While it’s becoming more normal to see teams move away from the tradition of home uniforms at home and away uniforms on the road in other sports, seeing USC in its Cardinal uniforms and UCLA in the true-blues on the field together is unique in college football and a beautiful sight.
What would be even more appealing to the eye is if Ohio State and Michigan adopted this same tradition. If on this Saturday, when the Buckeyes and the Wolverines meet for the 116th time, Ohio State wore its scarlet home jerseys and Michigan was in its famed blue kits, it would be a joy to behold. It wouldn’t matter that the game is in Ann Arbor because these two traditional college football powerhouses, each with their unique looks, would be on the field in their most recognizable uniforms.
These rivals used to do this. Although it’s hard to find evidence of this, due to black and white pictures from the time, the two teams wore their home jerseys until sometime in the 1950s.
What was the reason for the change? While there’s no official explanation, it is believed that television had to do with it. While scarlet vs. blue looks great in color in person, it’s hard to tell those two teams apart on black and white screens. By the late 1950s, TV had won out and the home team was wearing its color uniform and the road team wore white.
But it’s not as if this has become a set-in-stone tradition either. Nike has made sure of that. In 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 the Buckeyes wore an alternate uniform in The Game, differing from their traditional home or away kits. This was done to advertise those uniforms in the biggest game of the year and make money. But money be damned when it comes to this rivalry game.
It seems Nike has figured this out. After wearing all white uniforms in Ann Arbor two years ago, the Buckeyes were in their traditional home attire last season. There is not expected to be any alternate wear for this season’s game either.
So what’s standing in the way of these two teams, who have met every year since 1918, from going the way of USC and UCLA or Florida and Georgia, as another example? There are some requirements that have to be met.
According to the altered NCAA rules, the home team must agree to both teams wearing their home uniforms in writing prior to the game and the home team’s conference must verify that the uniforms contrast. So if Ohio State and Michigan wanted to make this happen, given their differing colors, it would not be difficult.
While there will certainly be the traditionalists who say that they want to see the home team in its home jersey and the away team in its away jersey when these two meet, that argument went out the window when Nike started altering things. If this was agreed upon by Ohio State, Michigan, the Big Ten and Nike, it would add another unique tradition to the rivalry that already has so many.