Frustration and inconsistency: The Citadel’s athletic uniforms

WHAT IS A BRAND?
A brand is the experience our audience receives or expects to receive. It is what sets us apart from other colleges and universities. Our brand is defined by the ideas and perceptions people have about The Citadel, and those ideas are influenced by what they see…

…With today’s technology, people are bombarded with hundreds of visual images and messages every day. Successful organizations know that it is important to build and maintain a strong visual identity that will cut through the visual clutter and be recognized instantly and positively by target audiences.

The Citadel Branding Toolbox, revised April 2015

The Citadel “branding” remains an issue with some alumni, but steps are being taken to rectify their concerns.

From the minutes of The Citadel Board of Visitors’ teleconference on November 3, 2014

At around 3:30 pm ET on May 5, 2015, a member of the athletic equipment staff at The Citadel tweeted out a picture of an apparent “alternate uniform” the football team may wear this fall. He included with the photo the comment, “Black knights of the Ashley River”.

Link

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is “exactly what The Citadel should have in a football uniform” and 10 is “the worst football uniform for The Citadel I’ve ever seen,” I would rate this effort a solid 25, with a five-point bonus for the “Black knights of the Ashley River” line. I suppose by now the staffer in question has been informed that a considerable number of alumni consider that comment to be derogatory in nature (though in all fairness, the original quote by Tim Brando back in 1990 was certainly not intended in that vein).

I’ll ignore the comment for now, and focus on the uniform. Among its problems:

1) The school’s athletic colors are not featured; black is not a school color, and never has been
2) The name of the school on the front of the jersey is wrong
3) The manufacturer’s logo on the front of the jersey is more prominent than the (incorrect) name of the school; indeed, you will note the multiple manufacturer’s logos present, which might make someone ask if the athletes are playing for the school, or for an apparel company
4) The logo on the helmet isn’t a primary logo (and I am unsure as to its status as a “secondary” logo)
5) Nothing about the uniform is particularly representative of the school at all; if the picture had not been posted by a staffer from The Citadel, I would have assumed the uniform was for the football program at Citadel High School, which is located in Nova Scotia
6) It appears the uniform is an attempt to emulate Wake Forest, Appalachian State, or Army (or ‘Army West Point’ as that school wants to be called now for some inexplicable reason)
7) The heat of Charleston (even for a 6 pm local start) combined with the all-black uniforms could conceivably cause mass cramping by the players after the midway point of the first quarter

After the picture was posted, I tweeted my decidedly negative opinion of the uniform. That led to a back-and-forth exchange with the equipment staffer. I don’t know if the individual in question was Kevin Yeager, or one of his assistants (so keep that in mind).

First, we discussed the lack of “The” in The Citadel. From @CitadelEquip:

I refer the 1943 THE Citadel alma mater. No reference to the. We understand the context and WE support The Citadel

This wasn’t the first time the equipment staff had tried to justify leaving the “The” off the jersey of one of The Citadel’s athletic teams. I received a similar response (excuse?) when I complained two months ago that the baseball jerseys didn’t have the “The”, either.

Of course, there are at least two major problems with the equipment staffer’s argument.

For one thing, it is absurd to suggest that the uniforms reference a song, rather than the school itself. (I also pointed out that the title of the song in question is “The Citadel Alma Mater”.)

Then there is the fact that just last year, the baseball team wore jerseys that actually included the “The”, in smaller script across the front left of the “C” in “Citadel”. It was a perfectly acceptable look, and one not unlike many other jerseys of the past.

I am quite confident that the words to the alma mater did not change in the past two years.

If I had to guess (and it would only be a guess), the absence of the “The” in this year’s baseball jerseys has little to do with the alma mater and a lot to do with adidas. Perhaps the apparel company wanted fewer letters on the jersey so as not to further distract from the manufacturer’s logos.

I don’t know, though. There really isn’t a justifiable reason to leave off the “The” in “The Citadel”.

On those occasions when The Citadel is playing a game on TV (or streaming on ESPN3, etc.), I get frustrated when an announcer continually refers to the school as “Citadel” rather than “The Citadel”. However, what is even more frustrating is that I really can’t be too critical, because the team playing in front of him is often wearing uniforms that say “Citadel” instead of “The Citadel”.

When people ask me where I went to college, I say “The Citadel”, like any alumnus would.

Why is it so hard to put the “The” on our jerseys? Is someone on the equipment staff offended by the “The”?

Then we got into a discussion about uniform changes in general. From @CitadelEquip (after a reference to the 1990 College World Series):

Now fast forward to 2015. Different era different athletes. All about recruiting young men to play, competitive advantage uniform options

I suggested that a lack of uniform changes had not seemed to affect the recruiting of, say, Alabama. His retort:

Alabama clearly has to carry rifles, march,and wear duty as well. Recruiting at THE Citadel is the toughest job in all NCAA

Notice that he capitalized the “The” in “The Citadel” in that tweet.

At any rate, his argument strikes me as dubious. Recruiting at The Citadel isn’t easy, but I don’t believe it is “the toughest job” in the entire NCAA. After all, The Citadel has something positive to offer prospective recruits and their families, and I’m not talking about drill.

Anyone who doubts this just needs to follow the twitter accounts of our varsity coaches (like football recruiting coordinator J.P. Gunter‘s, for example).

Also, The Citadel is not recruiting against SEC schools, like Alabama is.

Recruiting is important. There is no question about that. However, someone basing his or her college choice on uniform colors probably shouldn’t go to The Citadel.

I’ve been writing about the inconsistencies and problems with our athletic uniforms for what seems like forever, but things appear to have worsened in recent years, rather than improved.

I think the modern tipping point for what one of my friends rather inelegantly calls “uniform porn” came in the fall of 2010, when the football team played an entire home schedule without ever wearing the standard combination of light blue jerseys and white pants. Over the ensuing four-plus years, the school’s athletic uniform choices have rendered “primary” and “alternate” largely irrelevant terms.

Last season, The Citadel played six home football contests. In three of them, navy blue jerseys were worn, including both the Parents’ Day and Homecoming games.

Now, it appears even colors that aren’t considered “alternate” are to be used.

I don’t want to hear the “they look sharp” argument. A uniform doesn’t look sharp because it is all-black. It may just look different, which seems to be enough for some people. Of course, an all-black uniform isn’t really that different, either, when you consider how many other schools have tried the same thing.

Moreover, what is wrong with light blue? I think light blue looks sharp. It also happens to be one of our colors. If we are so desperate to wear “cutting-edge” uniforms, why can’t we wear cutting-edge uniforms in our actual school colors?

If someone decided green jerseys with pink polka dots looked sharp, does that mean The Citadel should have its football and basketball players wear them?

Later in the week the equipment staff tweeted out another mockup, one featuring tartan-print pants and numerals. This was presumably a joke, but due to recent uniform history, nobody was really sure it actually was a joke. That’s a problem.

Also from @CitadelEquip:

Stay tuned Bulldog fans for more creative options coming to a field near you!

I’m not looking forward to that.

As an aside, there is no proof to the theory that recruiting would improve and/or athletes would play better with “cool” uniforms, not for a school like The Citadel. As I mentioned earlier, the current period of ever-changing uniform combinations essentially started during the 2010-11 school year.

Any fan of The Citadel reading this post knows exactly how many SoCon team titles the school has won since the fall of 2010.

Last week, I emailed The Citadel’s Office of Communications and Marketing (formerly known as the Public Affairs Office or the Office of External Affairs) to ask if the college’s graphic standards manual had been updated. I did this mainly to confirm the college had not recently designated additional primary or alternate colors for the varsity athletic teams, like black or mauve.

I got a quick response from Kara Klein, the Director of Marketing, who was kind enough to email me a .pdf of the recently updated manual (a/k/a “The Citadel Branding Toolbox”), which was revised just last month. She pointed out to me, however, that the college as a whole does not have the same graphics/logo standards as the department of athletics. That department has separate requirements.

It is well worth perusing The Citadel Branding Toolbox anyway, though, as it is very interesting. The 32-page document includes rules and regulations for numerous items associated with the college, including graphic guidelines, logo requirements, typography standards, advice on social media use, and approved colors.

Ah yes, approved colors. After noting the two primary colors associated with athletics (light blue is Pantone 279C for “coated stock applications”, by the way), secondary and tertiary (!) colors were discussed:

Secondary color signatures are used in conjunction with The Citadel’s primary colors to provide visual support.  This provides a complimentary color palette that can be used in design to help augment the collegiate colors.  This is intended only as a guideline as colors should always be chosen as necessary to support the message and design.   Regardless of color choices, the primary colors should still be dominant and used overtly to support the brand.

The “secondary color signatures” are various shades of blue, including navy, the go-to color for shading and background. There are nine different “tones” and “tints” in this category.

Then there are the eight tertiary colors, all named for things related to the campus (“Summerall Field”, “Live Oak”, etc.). One of the eight is “Big Red”.

Another is “Shako”. It is not quite a black color, however; I would describe it as a dusty dark brown. It is clearly visible when set against a black background.

I thought it was noteworthy that while the school has no fewer than twenty different “color signatures” listed in the Branding Toolbox, none of them are black. From what I can tell, that color is only used in situations involving black-and-white publications.

(One of those additional colors, incidentally, is bright green, to be used exclusively for the “Dare to Lead” campaign. I am a bit puzzled by this, to be honest.)

For anyone who might be curious as to the inclusion of a section on social media in the Branding Toolbox, the Board of Visitors minutes from December 1, 2014, noted that “a challenging issue is how to control The Citadel brand on social media sites”. I can easily understand how it may be very challenging.

Regarding graphic and logo standards for varsity athletics, I was informed by associate AD Rob Acunto that it is a work in progress. A set of standards had not previously been established or documented, but the department is trying to remedy that situation. This is a good thing.

(My thanks to Acunto and to his fellow associate AD, Andy Solomon, for quickly responding to my query. I suspect they are both probably accustomed by now to answering off-the-wall questions from eccentric alums.)

I should hold out an oak branch (not olive, because it’s not one of the tertiary colors) to the folks who have to deal with these things on a day-to-day basis. The Citadel has a long and winding history when it comes to logos and artwork in general.

I can understand how someone might create something (a logo, uniform, etc.) outside the norm. Standards have changed so much over the years that trying to figure out exactly what is a standard can be a difficult task.

By various estimates, 30-40 variations of logos…represent The Citadel in our publications, letterheads and business cards. You will see…the college seal in a variety of colors and styles, lettering that might resemble wedding invitations or basic typewriter fonts, and a collection of images including PT Barracks, cadets, shakos, the ring, the bulldog, swords, a quill, or some artful combination of these. In the absence of graphic standards, creativity reigns and confusion is often the result. This variety of logos weakens the identity of The Citadel…

That passage is from an article published in 2001. I think it may have actually underestimated (by a considerable amount) the number of different logo variations used by the school over the years.

Let me give an example of a potential logo-related dilemma.

I first saw the logo of a small block “C” inside an outline of the State of South Carolina when it was used as the helmet logo for the final game of the 2013 football season, which was at Clemson. I didn’t understand then (and don’t really understand now) why we would break out a new helmet logo for the final game of the football season, especially when it was on the road.

Since then, this logo has become more prominent. I don’t have an issue with the logo itselfbut its application at times has been problematic.

During the Medal of Honor Bowl, Bulldogs running back Jake Stenson wore a black helmet with the logo (the same helmet color/design in the all-black mockup released on Tuesday), along with his Medal of Honor Bowl jersey. If someone was watching the game on TV and saw Stenson, that person may have not realized Stenson was a player at The Citadel, because without a matching jersey color, there was nothing that specifically identified the helmet with the college.

Because of the outline of the state as part of the logo, the block “C” is naturally smaller than the block “C” on the regular helmet logo. It is not as easy to recognize the light blue coloring inside the “C” as a result, and that combined with the black shell could lead to someone assuming Stenson had gone to a school like Coastal Carolina, rather than The Citadel.

There is also a bit of a “macro” issue with the logo. Does The Citadel want to regularly use a logo that is “South Carolina-centric” (for lack of a better term)? Perhaps it does, and I assume this was something discussed prior to the logo’s implementation (at least, I would hope so).

At the beginning of this post I quoted a passage from the Branding Toolbox that stated “[s]uccessful organizations know that it is important to build and maintain a strong visual identity that will cut through the visual clutter and be recognized instantly and positively by target audiences.” The problem with the constant uniform tinkering is it creates just that “visual clutter” the school is trying (and should be trying) to avoid.

I am aware the school’s history with uniforms is less than ideal when it comes to consistency. All too aware. That doesn’t mean short shrift should be given to the standards The Citadel does have.

The bottom line:

Our varsity uniforms should be emblematic of our school’s identity. Not Oregon’s, not Army’s, not Appalachian State’s. Ours.

We seem to be trying very hard to be something we’re not. It’s time to get back to the basics.

We are The Citadel. Our school athletic colors are light blue and white.

One thing on which everyone can agree: football season can’t get here fast enough.

3 Responses

  1. I think the “The” argument displays insecurity. For those who insist on “The” in front of every “Citadel” in all spelling and speak….why do they not also insist on including “…..The Military College of South Carolina” on the uniforms as well? It is our “official” name after all. Virginia Tech seems OK with not having VPI & State University on their uniforms and they’re one heck of a good school (one of the six senior military schools). I think the alma mater argument draws attention to the fact that “the” doesn’t always have to go in front….Why? because it sometimes is awkward to jam the “The” in there. Try singing the alma mater with “The” in front of Citadel every time….it doesn’t work. Our name is unique in the sports world. Whether you say Citadel or The Citadel…..everyone knows about whom you’re speaking. The “The” complex is for lesser schools like “The Ohio State University” who has a long-standing inferiority complex when compared to University of Michigan. As we obviously weren’t so concerned with the “The” when we wrote and approved the alma mater, so I chalk this up to “new corps” phobia…..we didn’t complain about it in the 80s.

  2. ……but I DO agree with the school color argument contained in the article above. We’ve not defeated anyone in the hideous red and light blue FB uniforms. The Navy doesn’t look as good. However, if we do want the freedom to select from nearly every color in the rainbow…..just change our colors to every color contained in the tartan…..contains Citadel blue and white…plus navy, red, gold (and black I think).

  3. Agreed 1000% on the name, Spike. If Adidas wants our business then they should honor the name. Something telks me that this is not a normal business-customer relationship, though. But there definitely needs to be some oversight on the logos and uniforms. I dont know what the BOV’s influence is on the AD but somebody needs to rein this crap in. One thing is for sure- if someone wants to work for our athletic department then they had better be prepared to toe the line. Nothing worse that athletic staffers with no Ring playing fast and loose with the colors and logos. Somebody somewhere needs to wake the hell up.

    Finally, instead of using Alabama as an example, try Georgia Southern. Plainer (and arguably uglier) uniforms, the same logo for forever, and no way in hell is Statesboro a recruiting bonus. Yet in recruiting they have traditionally run circles around us. They are more applicable in that they were SoCon for years and are in the same region.

    If we are going to monkey around with logos, then I would suggest (outside of staying with oumr primary colors) that we go with something martial- something belligerently “The Citadel”- like the crossed rifle and sword from the Ring, or a palmetto and crescent. Otherwise, lets either stick with the block C or put the whole name on the helmets.

    Great post

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