USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Garland Cooper, was a three-time NFCA All-American (two-time first team) and Big Ten Player of the Year at Northwestern University. In 2012, Garland was inducted into the NU Hall of Fame having helped the Wildcats to a pair of Women’s College World Series appearances. She was also a first-round pick of the New England Riptide in the 2007 National Pro Fast Pitch College Draft. Garland is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
It’s been more than a decade since the Oregon Ducks walked out onto the field one fall day and changed college uniforms forever. Since then, college teams in virtually all sports have under gone some dramatic makeovers to try and replicate Oregon’s popularity and success. Now, schools throughout the country often use several different combinations of uniforms in one season, including all-black alternates and the occasional throwback jerseys. And it seems like there’s no end to the creativity as uniforms around the world continue to evolve, shape-shift, and morph into styles and designs players even a few years ago could have never imagined.
Take for example the Swedish National Women’s soccer team that recently wore jerseys that featured inspirational messages instead of the player’s last name to celebrate International Women’s Day.
The most stylish recruiting tool out there
In the all-important world of social media, colleges and coaches know the power of “sick” uniforms. It’s just a great way to draw attention to your school or program. Coaches know it adds to their appeal and it may start a conversation with an athlete that may not have happened otherwise. All things being equal between two schools, an awesome uniform(s) may give that coach an edge. However, even though every school and coach is proud of its colors, every one of them would tell you not to base your college decision solely on the looks of its uniform alone but rather what that uniform represents.
Keeping your college search “uniform blind”
Sometimes with college sports, it’s just love at first sight. Whether it’s the radical tire-tread design that once adorned Oregon’s jerseys, or maybe you’re more old-school, favoring the timeless look of Alabama’s Crimson Tide. The styles and endless variety are what help make college sports so great, but it can become an unnecessary distraction from your personal education goals. That’s why wise student-athletes move uniforms out of the recruiting equation, or at least much further down the must-have list. Like the Lady Justice statue with her blindfold, you want to make a clear and impartial college decision based on the long-term investment in education.
Go for the academics not game-day attire
As a former college player, I’m more than a little envious of some of the amazing new gear that’s out there today. But as former student-athlete, I know in the grand scheme of things, you need to keep focused on your education. It’s absolutely great if what first draws you to a certain school is what they are wearing, you just have to do your research and find out if this school is the right academic fit for you.
That means seeing if they offer your major and what type of academic assistance is available. You will also want to check on the graduation rate for athletes in your sport. For more on finding the right school, you can also read No Regrets: Picking the Right College.
Find the school/campus that fits your life not just your style
When you find a school that aligns with your academic goals, the next thing you want to confirm is that it is a place where you would be comfortable for the next four years. School visits are always a good way to “test drive” a campus and see if it feels right. Size of the school is one of the first considerations. Big schools often offer more majors and a lot of different kinds of student activities. Small schools, on the other hand, may offer a specialty major, smaller classroom sizes and a greater sense of community within the school. Location is also a key factor. Some athletes like the urban feel of a bigger city campus while others prefer more of remote location that’s free of distractions.
Remember, fashion fades. College goes four years.
Uniforms that used to change at a glacial pace with barely noticeable modifications every 10 years or so are now being re-invented almost every season. The look you like today might not even be around for your freshman year. And as you begin to weigh the different pro and cons of each school, remember that what you wear is not nearly as important as where you want to go with your life beyond sports.