Kansas State University

K-State’s football uniform an island in a sea of change

Kansas State has had the same look to its uniform for all of Bill Snyder’s 25 seasons.
Kansas State has had the same look to its uniform for all of Bill Snyder’s 25 seasons. The Wichita Eagle

Kickoff is several hours away, but you wouldn’t know it by the look of Kansas State’s football locker room. Players are dancing, coaches are smiling and administrators are cheering. Such pandemonium is normally reserved for postgame victories, not pregame meetings.

But today is special. For the first time since 1989, K-State coach Bill Snyder has approved major alterations to the team’s uniforms.

Say goodbye to the silver pants and purple tops the Wildcats traditionally wear at home. See you later, silver helmet with a purple Powercat. Take a hike, old-school stripes. Today, K-State’s uniforms won’t remind fans of the Dallas Cowboys. Instead, they will resemble the modern, flashy uniforms you find at Oregon, Oklahoma State and Baylor.

The Wildcats are thrilled. It’s like Christmas morning, and Santa brought them exactly what they wanted.

One problem — this scene is hypothetical. It exists only in the dreams of K-State football players.

“If that happened, it would be crazy,” quarterback Jesse Ertz said. “I have imagined it, and I think some people might actually pass out from excitement. I’m telling you, there are people on our team who want new uniforms so bad.”

“I would be lying if I told you I wouldn’t be excited about new uniforms,” added center Dalton Risner. “I think they would be awesome. Anytime you get a new, swaggy jersey to show off, it would be cool.”

This is a common thought at K-State. While other football programs have embraced trendy uniforms by changing helmets, jerseys and pants so often that their players rarely wear the same thing twice, the Wildcats remain committed to tradition. Bill Snyder’s teams change every year, but their uniforms stay the same.

There is nothing wrong with that approach. Some respect K-State’s classic look – a clean, simple uniform that embodies Snyder’s substance-over-style philosophy — and compare them to what you find at Texas, Penn State and Southern California, programs that rarely deviate from their vintage style. The Wildcats are never panned on social media for wearing gaudy uniforms that miss the mark.

But even traditional powerhouses have begun dabbling in alternate uniforms. Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan and Nebraska all wear special uniforms at least once a season. Oftentimes, they use them as promotional tools that boost attendance and recruiting.

Is it time for K-State to do the same?

Embracing the uniform craze

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was skeptical when Nike approached him five years ago with a proposal to radically change the Cowboys’ football uniforms.

Today, he’s all in.

Nike has flooded Stillwater, Okla., with apparel in recent years, presenting the Cowboys with enough uniform combinations to outfit a small army. At the beginning of each season, the team gets new pants, jerseys, socks, undershirts, gloves and helmets in multiples of at least four. One game, they might wear all orange. The next, they might go all black. Some games, they mix and match or throw in white and gray, choosing between helmets that feature their mascot or the school’s letters.

It’s enough to make a football player feel like a model.

Perhaps that’s why this all seemed silly to Gundy until he realized it gave his team an advantage.

“It has helped us,” Gundy said. “We have a new line that will be out this year. We have new uniforms, and we are all looking forward to them. When we made the change we were following Oregon. We were the Oregon of the Midwest and now everybody has new uniforms, stickers and helmets. The young men we recruit like the colors and the glitz and glamor.”

A recent survey of 100 top high school football players, by Pick Six Previews, supports that theory. When asked if uniforms have a great impact on their perception of a team, 72 recruits responded true. Of those 72 recruits, 33 said a school’s uniforms would impact their college choice.

Translation: Recruits want trendy uniforms.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury has taken notice. He works with Under Armour at the end of each season to create new uniforms and thinks being associated with the apparel company puts the Red Raiders at an advantage over Nike and Adidas schools.

“They allow us to do some cool things with our jerseys and helmets that the players like,” Kingsbury said. “Recruits like to see new and shiny things, so we are always trying to change up our uniforms with new and clean looks that help us.”

New Iowa State coach Matt Campbell is also looking to get involved with the uniform craze. This fall, he says the Cyclones will debut a new look.

Working with Nike to create new uniforms was near the top of his to-do list in Ames.

“I think it is critical,” Campbell said. “Young people today love new. They love uniforms. I am a big believer in tradition, but it is also fun to be creative and add some newness and energy to not only your players but your fan base.”

Gundy thinks the right uniforms can even help on game day.

“When our players see new stuff for the first time they get fired up,” Gundy said. “They love it. It can help you win.”

Synonymous with winning

Bill Snyder isn’t that different from his peers when it comes to on-field fashion.

He, too, once prioritized uniforms.

One of the first things Snyder did at K-State in 1989 was change uniforms. When he arrived, the team wore purple helmets with the word “Cats” written across them in script. Purple and silver jerseys featured numbers and logos depicting Willie the Wildcat. The team wore plain silver pants.

Some liked the look, but not Snyder. He hated them.

Why? They didn’t help K-State win. Before his arrival, the Wildcats were in the midst of a 29-game winless streak and led all of college football in losses. They had played in one bowl. No way Snyder was coaching a team in those uniforms. They represented futility.

Instead, he enlisted the help of a local artist and created a football specific K-State logo, known by fans as the Powercat, and uniforms cut from the same cloth as the Dallas Cowboys. He also darkened the shade of purple.

“It was just a matter of wanting to be a little bit different,” Snyder says now. “The program had needed some success and not had any success. Consequently, if you keep wearing the same logos and uniforms as you always have, it sends the message that you may end up being the same.”

K-State was far from the same in its new uniforms. Snyder led the team to its first victory in three seasons that first year. The Wildcats took off from there, winning 193 games, reaching 17 bowls and claiming two Big 12 championships in 24 seasons.

Snyder’s uniforms became synonymous with winning. So much so that no one dared change them. Eventually, the Powercat became a symbol for the entire university. It’s on the 50-yard line at Snyder Family Stadium. It’s at midcourt at Bramlage Coliseum. It’s on trash cans and street signs.

“The intent with the logo was never to have it become the university logo,” Snyder says. “I didn’t want to interfere with that. I love Willie the Wildcat and so do so many others. I wanted to confine it to football, but (former president) Jon Wefald and our athletic director decided they wanted to go in that direction, because it became very, very popular.”

Over the years, K-State’s basketball and baseball teams have routinely changed their uniforms, but Snyder says he has never thought about changing the football team’s uniforms in a significant way.

“We got them right the first time,” he says.

Maybe a new look would boost recruiting, but Snyder targets prospects that prioritize other things. Besides, K-State tried new uniforms that featured purple pants during Snyder’s brief retirement. But after a 17-20 record under Ron Prince, fans were eager to return to the team’s traditional look upon Snyder’s return.

Once again, they helped K-State win.

It’s hard to ignore that kind of tradition.

“As much as I like the idea of new uniforms, I have no problem being the old-school team with the jerseys that everyone can remember,” Risner, K-State’s center, said. “We have the stripes from 1950 that nobody has anymore. I think it is really cool and a neat tradition.”

Change on the horizon?

The odds of K-State unveiling new uniforms under Snyder remain low, but there is a sense around the team that the old coach is open to change.

That was best illustrated last spring, when team captains requested a meeting with Snyder to discuss possible changes for the upcoming year, including new uniforms, and Snyder heard them out. The captains said they liked the current uniforms, but wanted an alternate look for special games.

There was some precedent for the request. Three years ago, K-State wore camouflage Powercats on their helmets to honor soldiers at nearby Fort Riley. Snyder also recently joined Twitter, proving he is willing to try new things.

Snyder was receptive to the players’ uniform proposal, but he didn’t say yes, telling them the Nike deadline for submitting new uniform requests had passed.

Still, some wonder if he was being coy. Could Snyder have fabricated the deadline in order to surprise players with new uniforms?

Speculation raged last month when a football recruit shared a picture of himself on social media wearing a K-State uniform that appeared to feature never-before-seen white pants. They turned out to be silver — false alarm — but fans were fired up all the same.

Much like K-State players, they can imagine a wild pregame unveiling of new uniforms.

“I won’t be too shocked if that happens,” K-State defensive end Jordan Willis said. “We asked about new uniforms and coach said, ‘Yeah, we can think about that. What do you have in mind?’ It’s not that he won’t do new uniforms; it’s that no one ever asked. That is something that you will probably see in the next few years.”

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett