By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) These days in college sports, it almost seems as if the game of fashion is more important than the actual games themselves.
And when it comes to recruiting, it actually might be.
With all that in mind, I’m pleased that the University of Illinois upped its fashion game this week with the unveiling of a new Nike-driven rebrand that’s been 18 months in development and culminates today at Niketown on Michigan Avenue with an event featuring basketball coach John Groce, football coach Tim Beckman and athletic director Mike Thomas, along the flashy new Illini apparel.
Overall, I like the new logo, look and color schemes for Illinois’ basketball and football uniforms, although there of course are some things I like more than others. Here’s my rundown of what I favor and disfavor with the new Illini duds:
WHAT I DO LIKE:
Ever since the retirement of the university’s Chief Illiniwek logo – which I considered to be the best in sports – Illinois has lacked an icon that’s provided it with an actual identity.
A simple “I” simply doesn’t cut it.
However, with the debut of the new “Shield” branding element, aka the “Victory Badge,” the Illlini now have something that does set them apart. Featuring a prominent Block I, the badge includes two facing F’s that are meant to symbolize the “Fight” in “Fighting Illini,” as well as vertical stripes intended to represent the Memorial Stadium columns.
It’s a solid symbol that projects strength and is filled with meaning. I like it.
Zipping down the side of the Illiini basketball uniforms from the armpit to the bottom of the shorts, is a zig-zag pattern that didn’t do much for me at first blush But then a friend last night pointed out that that the zig-zags seem to resemble the tips of the feather headdress that was worn by beloved and banished university symbol Chief Illiniwek.
Now, is that the actual intent? I can’t say for sure, and the university certainly isn’t likely to confirm it. But, regardless, I’d like to think that the jagged pattern is an homage to the Chief, so that’s what I am going to think.
Navy and orange has been Illinois’ official color scheme since Nov. 6, 1894, and surely it always will be. But Nike has now added a secondary palette that includes the unconventional colors of dark steel gray and metallic silver.
I’m in favor of it.
Those shades aren’t ones that Illinois should wear often. But in age when a school’s variety of uniforms is what often catches the eyes of young fans and recruits, I think the increased design flexibility that the gray and silver adds is both fun for the Illini brand and fashion-forward, to boot.
WHAT I DON’T LIKE:
Where’s the nickname?
Personally, I prefer a team’s home uniforms to feature the name of a school’s state or city, while the road uniforms feature its nickname.
So, while I like “ILLINOIS” being prominent on the new uniforms, I’m also disappointed that there aren’t additional versions that boast “ILLINI” or “FIGHTING ILLINI” across the chest. After all, at football and basketball games in Champaign, fans chant “I-L-L … I-N-I” not “I-L-L .. I-N-O-I-S.”
The school may be in Illinois, but its followers are the Fighting Illini, and the university still needs to do a better job of embracing that moniker.
I don’t hate the new font that’s used to spell out “ILLINOIS” on the uniforms, but I’m also not overly fond of it. The main reason is that with its funky I’s resembling the number one, the name of the school almost appears as “1LL1NO1S.”
According to the university, the custom letterforms “are inspired by the speed and elusive lateral movements synonymous with Illini legend Red Grange,” while the split color design “nods to the concept of duality in the school’s motto “Learning and Labor,” and represents the state of Illinois as a crossroads between East and West.”
I’m all for symbolism, but I feel as if that may be trying a bit too hard. And I’m not sure the font would be No. 1 in my book.
As I said earlier, overall, I like the new uniforms, logos and color schemes for Ilinois athletics. They’re strong. But the reality is, the only thing that I would have considered super is if the rebrand brought back the Chief Illiniwek logo.
That wasn’t going to happen, of course. But I can still wish that it had. And at the very least. there are those zig-zags that one can imagine as a nod to the Chief.
And that is better than nothing.