Many college programs are turning to flashy, cutting edge uniforms to help them stand out, but at Boise State, the uniforms are designed to blend in.
The Broncos, famous for their royal blue “Smurf Turf” football field, have long favored all-blue uniforms when playing at home. The combination was as much a part of the team’s identity as the annual finishes just outside the major BCS bowls, despite a string of undefeated and one-win seasons.
Two seasons ago, in an attempt to gain more respect in college football polls and have a fighting chance at making a BCS game, the Broncos applied to switch from the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) to the Mountain West (MWC).
The MWC approved the move – on the condition that the Broncos would no longer wear all-blue uniforms during conference home games. It was a small price to pay for the potential payoff of a BCS berth down the road, so the Broncos ultimately agreed to comply.
With the widespread changes due to conference realignment, however, the Mountain West was no longer as strong a football conference as it was when Boise State first applied for membership. Two of the MWC’s better programs exited in 2011 – Utah went to the Pac-12 and BYU went independent in football – and TCU followed a year later, ending up in the Big 12 after initially leaving for the Big East.
Boise State’s left the WAC with the intention of landing in a more prestigious conference, one that would allow them to earn more respect as a power program and help them snag an elusive BCS bowl bid, but the changes in their new conference hurt those chances.
Not getting what they paid for, the Broncos decided not to stick around and were in talks to join the Big East, a former BCS conference also struggling with stability.
The Mountain West rolled out all the stops to get the Broncos to stick around, including repealing the all-blue uniforms ban. It worked, and Boise State re-committed to the MWC but the Broncos, thwarted at nearly every pass, now face a proposed NCAA rule requiring teams to wear uniforms that contrast with the field color.
This time, the Broncos have the conference into their corner, and in a complete reversal of its earlier stance, the Mountain West is now lobbying against the rule on behalf of Boise State.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson sent a letter to the NCAA’s Playing Rules Administration, writing that the conference is “strongly opposed” to the rule change:
The proposed rule is not related to any student-athlete safety concerns. Furthermore, this regulation could have a significant negative marketing impact for the Broncos. It will also likely result in undesirable publicity for the NCAA, and would most certainly be damaging to the Boise State University brand. Whatever upside might result from this change is not worth the harmful impact it will have on this institution.
The last thing the NCAA needs is any more “undesirable publicity,” and matching their uniforms to the turf doesn’t give Boise State much of a competitive advantage. The Broncos were 14-0 at home in their final two seasons in the WAC, and 11-2 at home in the last two years wearing contrasting uniforms.
Donning all blue on the Smurf Turf won’t make a 340-lb. lineman harder to see – and if it does, Boise State’s opponents have bigger problems.
Rethinking the proposed ban would be a small concession on the part of the NCAA, but it would be a big strategic victory for the Broncos who have, so far, leveraged the tradition masterfully to get what they want.