Call it the Oregon Ducks effect or the impact of apparel corporations or simply a sign of the times. Call it what you wish, but it's here to stay. Alternate helmets and uniforms are more prevalent than ever in college football.
"This is certainly a trend we are seeing take place at many different colleges," said Christian Shanafelt, FCS/D2 football analyst for @NFLDraftBible. "When I think of college football uniforms, the first school to come to mind is the University of Oregon and the different types of helmet/jersey/pants combination that they have and how excited people (even the non-Oregon Ducks fans) get just off of a unique or stylish uniform."
This trend is alive and well in the Land of Lincoln. This season, Southern Illinois and Western Illinois have added alternate helmets. Eastern has changed its head gear and Illinois State's jerseys are a bit different.
"We are seeing alternate uniforms more and more nowadays to not only excite the student-athletes who will be gearing up in said uniforms but the fans as well," Shanafelt said, "and if you have something that'll really catch the public's eye (good or bad ), then it'll be talked about among community and possibly even further."
Good guys wear white (or maroon or . . .)
SIU donned white helmets for the first time since 2011 when the Salukis took the field for their home opener this past Saturday. The new helmets are a secondary option to the team's maroon helmet.
According to the official SIU media release, "white helmets were standard throughout most of Saluki Football history before the program switched to black helmets in 2012. The program switched to maroon helmets in 2015 and will continue to wear the metallic maroon for the majority of its games."
SIUSalukis.com further states, "2018 white helmets have a matte finish, the classic Saluki "S" on the right side and the player's jersey number on the left. The purchase of the helmets was made possible by the generosity of several donors who wanted the program to have the white helmet option again."
Head coach and former Saluki quarterback Nick Hill said, "There's so much tradition associated with that color. We won a national championship [in 1983], five conference titles and made eight playoff appearances wearing white helmets. Having both the white and maroon option gives us more flexibility, and the players love it, which is a plus in recruiting."
Prairie State Pigskin asked star SIU running back D.J. Davis his preference.
"The white one. It gives us a new look, splashes up the uniform. I’m eager to go all white (with the uniform and with the helmet) and see how that looks. I know it’s going to look good," Davis said.
On Sept. 29, Southern will wear commemorative black jerseys during its Family Weekend--Salukis Blackout Cancer game versus South Dakota. Fans were able to bid online for the namesake jerseys in honor of a friend or family member impacted by cancer. Former Saluki standout safety and Academic All-American Mike McElroy initiated the "Black Out Cancer" game at SIU in 2011.
It's the fourth year proceeds from the jersey bidding will benefit the new SIH Cancer Institute, which recently opened. This year, the proceeds will go to support the Coach Kill Cancer Fund. Kill, the former Salukis head coach and current athletic director and his wife, Rebecca, established a fund that financially assists families and individuals coping with cancer and childhood diseases.
Shades of gray
Meanwhile, in Charleston, the EIU Panthers switched to gray helmets this season. Eastern had worn black helmets under head coach Dino Babers. During the Bob Spoo era (1987-2011), the Panthers wore silver-based helmets.
When EIU opened this season at the University of Arkansas, the Panthers wore gray pants and blue jerseys to compliment their helmets.
For this past weekend's home opener against regional rival Indiana State, Eastern wore all white pants and jerseys. According to its website, the uniform combination was the third different in as many games this season for the Panthers. Moreover, the EIU athletic department encouraged fans to wear white to the home opener.
According to SBNation.com, Penn State’s student section began doing the white outs in 2004, with the full-stadium version starting in 2007.
“The only thing I like more than Christmas is a whiteout football game,” Penn State coach James Franklin recently told a Toledo newspaper.
EIU changed its logo in 2015. The design features a side view of a panther’s head, predominantly white with light blue outlining and gray accents.
EIU Director of Athletics Tom Michael told the Journal Gazette-Times Courier the design was changed in order to modernize and appeal to younger people around the ages of 17 to 18.
Michael said it is important to modernize from a recruitment perspective as well as an institutional perspective to stay new and relevant.
Good ole Rocky top
Over in Macomb, Western Illinois debuted white helmets with its 'Rocky' mascot logo. Previously, the Leathernecks had worn purple head gear with either its logo or a 'W' decal.
"I really like the new helmets!" said James Torgerson, who finished up his WIU playing career last season.
"It’s about time they finally got them. I’m pretty sure they’ve been showing those to us since I was being recruited there," Torgerson chuckled.
The Leathernecks wore an all-white helmet, jersey and pant uniform against the University of Illinois.
"I was never a huge fan of the all whites," Torgerson joked, "made me look fatter than I already was."