When Michigan first unveiled the jersey for the game that would become known as "Under the Lights", reaction was immediate. Some loved it, some hated it. Either way, the news was major. Michigan football has made numerous changes to the uniform over the years, but not much had changed, especially with the home uniform, for quite sometime. This is what made the jersey so special and what led to such large jersey sales. Not the fact that the jersey was something different, but because it was made for a special event and was billed as something that wouldn't happen again for quite sometime.
A few weeks later, Michigan unveiled similar alternate jerseys for the game against Michigan State in East Lansing. Over the course of the season, Michigan wore 6 different uniforms and wore at least 7 different uniform combinations. For a team that prides itself on tradition, that's pretty surprising. In fact, Michigan actually played the majority of its games last season with different uniform combinations. If I had given someone those jersey stats without naming the school, most would probably guess a school like Oregon, not a school like Michigan.
Now, to be fair, many of the uniform "combinations" were very similar. For instance, one combination was the use of the "number helmets" with the home uniform. Along with this, the team used two uniforms during the Northwestern game because of an issue with the jerseys fitting the players. However, even dropping these types of combinations, Michigan had 3 alternate jerseys on top of their home and away jerseys. That's quite a lot for a team that plays just 12-13 games a year.
Michigan seems to be continuing this 2011 tradition in 2012. They have already announced that they will be using alternate uniforms for the season opener against Alabama. Now, I'm not going to breakdown the actual appearance of the jersey. For one, I'm not a fashion expert. Second, everyone has different views. Some may absolutely love them and others may despise them. Personally, I think they look ok even though they are an obvious rip-off of the Nike Pro Combat uniforms, but this isn't the main issue.
The main issue is whether continuing this tradition of alternate jerseys is a good move for Michigan. Of course, there will be some who are completely against the idea altogether. They will cite tradition and the greatness of Michigan's traditions jerseys, and they will be right. On the other hand, others will say Michigan needs to stay fresh and do these type of things for special games, and they will be right as well. As usual, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle.
Yes, Michigan has great tradition and its home uniform are probably one of, if not the best, uniforms in the country. However, having something special once in a while doesn't change either Michigan's tradition or the greatness of its home uniform. In fact, out of all the alternate jerseys last season, only one was a home uniform. Virtually every recent change has been to the road jersey, which doesn't receive nearly as much praise from fans. So using the greatness of Michigan's home jersey doesn't really apply in this situation.
Despite this, change for the sake of change isn't something fans should want for Michigan. Michigan needs to try and stay modern, but that doesn't mean throwing away the past. Michigan's football tradition and jersey are recognizable throughout the world. That's not something you want to just throw out the window for some new trend. This is my big concern with the current trend. Having 7 different jersey combinations and 3 alternate jerseys throughout the season is just ridiculous. Yes, the "Under the Lights" game was special, but a game against MSU and the Sugar Bowl? Those were big games, but not something so unique that they truly warranted an alternate jersey.
Is the Cowboy Classic against Alabama a special and unique game? I would say so. This game will be the highlight of the opening college football weekend, is in a unique atmosphere, and probably won't be repeated anytime soon. However, with all the uniform changes last season, this is probably a bit too much. With Michigan's tradition, one can only justify so much change so quickly, especially for something like uniforms. I'm perfectly fine with changing the jerseys for unique situations, but it's something that needs to be watched carefully and I don't think that is what is happening right now.
The first thing the athletic department needs to do is stay away from the home uniform. An alternate home uniform is ok once every 10 or so years for something very unique, like the "Under the Lights" game. Otherwise, you tarnish the greatness and tradition of Michigan's look. Going further, I would like to see some away jersey changes on a regular basis, but how about reusing some of the older versions? Why not reuse the one from the Virginia Tech game? Responses seemed positive and they're already made, why not just use those again instead of making new ones?
There's no doubt that the athletic department is thinking about $ signs and creating something new and flashy. However, at this rate, they may do more harm that good. If this is the only alternate for this season, I will be fine, but if they continue, Michigan fans really need to start expressing some dissatisfaction. Otherwise, the tradition truly could be challenged, at least in terms of Michigan's look. But at this point, it's just something new and exciting for a big season opener. There's no reason to freak-out yet and if you like the new jerseys, don't feel guilty buying them.