looping basketball gif

Guard Joe MacDonald (above) and center Kevin Larsen (below) model the Colonials' new fight-song themed uniforms. Together with Patricio Garino they form a trio of starters since their freshman year, helping GW in 2014 to its first NCAA tournament since 2007 (Photos: William Atkins)

New fight-song themed uniform deepens the Colonials' closet.

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By Matthew Stoss


Years ago as the men's basketball coach at the Catholic University of America, Mike Lonergan, in the name of style and ornithological correctness, switched his alma mater's school color from maroon to red. He didn't mean for the change to stick. He just wanted his basketball uniforms to better reflect CUA's mascot.

"We were the Cardinals, and for recruiting and stuff, I thought it was just too maroon," says Mr. Lonergan, who became GW's coach in 2011. "So my athletic director, Bob Talbot, let me use red more. And so now, Catholic U. is all red, black and white."

Mr. Lonergan has always been into uniform design—into "gear." Back in the day, he had about 10 pairs of Nike Air Force 1s, all different colors. His CUA teams took the court pre-game in University of Indianastyle, candy-stripe warm-up pants, and Mr. Lonergan still remembers when the University of Maryland wore black alternates in the early 1980s.

"They always wore red and white," he says. "And then one year—Lenny Bias was there— they broke out these beautiful black uniforms with gold lettering. I mean, incredible. Just to get fans—everybody—fired up."

He loves this stuff, and today the fifth-year coach has more to love than ever.

In the past 10 years, fueled by greater television exposure and attention to branding, as well as competition among clothing manufacturers, universities are increasingly offering their athletes larger uniform closets, adding one, two, three or more alternates. GW, which has 25 of 31 regular-season games on TV this year, is no different.

"Our uniforms are emblematic of many different branding initiatives we have undertaken in the past several years," Athletics Director Patrick Nero says. "From bus wraps on D.C. Metro buses and in New York City, to Metro station [advertising] takeovers and branding within the Smith Center, it is important for us to show that GW athletics is part of the community. Specific to the uniforms, we have had several iterations of uniforms that connect with people in different ways."

The Colonials have five uniforms this season, their wardrobe anchored by the home whites and the away blues. Complementing the standbys are a buff set, a D.C. landmark-inspired gray set, and, new this year, an all-white, fight-song themed kit that debuted Nov. 16 in a nationally televised home game against the University of Virginia.

"The D.C. monument uniforms were to identify that GW is located in the heart of the nation's capital. We're proud of that," Mr. Nero says. "This is unlike any city in the world. This year's new uniform has the words to our fight song printed on the sides. ‘Raise high the buff, raise high the blue, loyal to GW' is our tribute to our fans that support us every day."

Mr. Lonergan has kept the Foggy Bottom wardrobes deep since he took over—but he's not alone. Alternate uniforms are a big trend in college athletics. Paul Lukas, who in 1999 founded Uni-Watch.com and now writes for ESPN, says the trend started with the University of Oregon's football team in the mid-2000s.

"Nike's relationship with Oregon is what got all this started," Mr. Lukas says. "Because Oregon's on-field performance happened to get a lot better during the period when they were becoming established in this kind of visual carousel, that was seen as a validation of the approach. I think if Oregon had done the exact same uniform progression but had been really lousy on the field, I'm not sure it would have made the same impact."

The Ducks, not including this season, have played in six BCS games since the 2009 season, including two trips to the national championship game. From 1958 to 2008, they played in just two elite bowl games.

Regardless of any connection between gear and wins—Mr. Lukas says there isn't one—branding has become immensely important in college athletics. That applies to everything from uniforms to court design. GW's has D.C. landmarks: the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument.

"Being on TV, announcers always compliment our court," Mr. Lonergan says. "And I just think the whole setup of the Smith Center ... it's all done the right way so that we look really good on TV."

There's also been an explosion of fan interest in on-field/on-court fashion. Mr. Lukas has more than 93,000 followers on Twitter and he says fans ask him constantly about when their team is getting a new look.

Universities have grown hip to the fad. Many college equipment room staffs now have Twitter accounts, posting their squad's game-day ensemble. This covers helmets, jerseys, pants, shoes and even ...

"The sock game is exploding," says GW Director of Basketball Operations Matt Lisiewski, estimating that GW has seven or eight different pairs.

Mr. Lisiewski is in charge of designing the base look for the Colonials' uniforms, working with an in-house graphic designer during the four-month process of creating and ordering new duds through Nike's build-a-uniform website. GW is averaging about one new uniform per season. It sounds like he's been doing a nice job, too.

Mr. Lukas says he likes the D.C. landmark jerseys, which, like the Smith Center floor, showcase the Capitol, the White House and the Washington Monument. They're in a row below the numbers on the back of the jerseys.

"That design is interesting to the extent that it's asymmetrical," Mr. Lukas says. "Most of the rear jersey designs that we see ... often, they're symmetrical. They have like a seal look to them, and this one is asymmetrical, which I kind of like, actually."

Mr. Lonergan, of course, agrees. He also likes living in the Golden Age of Uniforms, Gear and High Athletic Fashion, a time when no flourish is too small. A GW logo in the center of the shorts waistband? Sure. Three warm-up shirts (warm-up pants have been kicked out of vogue) in three colors? All right. Blue accent on the jersey collar? No prob.

"When I played, gear was important to me, and it's important to our players," Mr. Lonergan says. "I don't like to be too flashy but I like that we have different options, and guys get excited when they put on their uniforms."

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