Traditionally speaking, the uniform combinations that BYU wears in the fall are selected during the spring in conjunction with the marketing team. Last season, however, BYU's original schedule went away and a new schedule was rebuilt on the fly. As last year's schedule was in the process of being reconstructed, then BYU Equipment Manager Billy Nixon saw an opportunity to receive weekly player feedback on uniform combinations.
Nixon met with the leadership team once they knew they would be playing games and said, "Let's just go through the schedule and you tell me what we should wear...because at the end of the day, this is your program, and I'm just here to support what you all want."
As the excitement started to build behind BYU's 7-0 start to the 2020 season, so did the excitement behind the weekly uniform reveals. Every Monday, Nixon would dress the mannequin, also known as 'Big Mike', to announce the uniform combination for that week.
The Origins of BYU Player Experience
Nearly one year later, the focus on player involvement in the decision-making process has been rebranded to player experience. Nixon received a promotion this offseason, and his new title represents the shift from the "transactional nature of equipment management", to the wholistic approach of player experience. Nixon's new title is the Director of Player of Experience and Equipment Operations at BYU.
"The whole focus is taking away the transactional nature of equipment manager, and all these others facets that are critical to a college football experience, and all we focus on is experience," Nixon said.
Sitake's player-focused culture laid the foundation for the emphasis on player experience within the football operations team. "What we want athletes at BYU to feel is that every time they come to campus, they feel love," Nixon said. "The player experience is truly extension of Kalani Sitake's love for his athletes."
In an article that explains player experience and its origins, Nixon wrote, "The vision was simple, to provide players with the greatest experience in college athletics and design experiences that demonstrate genuine care for every individual within the context of their role as a student-athlete. Incorporating designing theory into equipment operation began with identifying and evaluating major touchpoints along the player life cycle. Then, when appropriate, find opportunities to get players involved in a collaborative design of their experiences, such as allowing players to select which uniform combinations they wore for each game or designing their own apparel. Through regular collaboration, the player experience team was able to identify the more complicated drivers and desires of players and develop a culture of trust, respect, and meaningful relationships."
Next Steps in BYU Player Experience
It's been a busy year for player experience enhancements. In the last year alone, BYU added two new helmets to its uniform repertoire, renovated the locker room in the student-athlete building, launched a "Love One Another" program that was a player-driven campaign in response to the social injustices occurring around the country, and designed a Built4Life program to take advantage of new opportunities made possible by NIL changes.
On what is next for player experience at BYU, Nixon said, "Creating a culture of experience, every day. Every day we talk about the player's experience. Sometimes those experiences aren't monumental. Like introducing two new helmets, that's pretty monumental. A locker room is a big experience to be apart of...but the smaller things, like how can we be better at onboarding?"
The Evolution of BYU Football Uniforms
The designs behind the two new helmets were driven by tradition. Blue helmets will be new to the independence era, but they won't be new to the BYU football program.
"As the season rolls out, we want to connect our players with the uniform that week, to where it comes from in tradition," Nixon said. "When we roll out the royal helmets against Arizona, we want the players to understand that the year [BYU] won its first conference championship, we were in a royal helmet and one of the first games that year was against Arizona. We have a rich tradition within college football, and everything they do represents that rich tradition."
As BYU wears new uniforms this season, Billy will try connect the uniforms to BYU's rich tradition.
"The fact that we are going into a game this year with a new uniform combo is amazing. I'm glad that we get to showcase that BYU is an elite Nike school. Outside of Oregon, we have the most uniform combinations in college football. That's something that people wouldn't have believed a year ago...I think you're going to see in the future more throwback games, I think you're going to see us trying to connect the players with tradition."
2021 Uniform Reveals
Like last season, BYU will reveal 2021 uniform combinations during game week. "Big Mike is coming back. We'll continue to use Big Mike as we reveal. Big Mike is the first time our players see the uniform...social media is important for the fan experience, absolutely. But that's not the way our players find out."
When the Cougars scheduled a last-minute game against Coastal Carolina last season, BYU's equipment truck began a race against the clock to get the uniforms, helmets, cleats, and footballs to South Carolina in time for kickoff.
Nixon documented the truck's journey to South Carolina on social media. According to Nixon, the "truck tracker" is going to "intensify" this season. "The truck tracker, that's only going to intensify. We're going to have a GPS on the truck this year, so that we can give a better play-by-play experience of where the truck is. It makes kickoff that much more realistic, it's almost a countdown from when the truck leaves to kickoff."
Selecting 2021 Uniform Combinations
If you exclude facemask color, BYU has 16 different uniform combinations at its disposal for the upcoming season. If you include facemask color and swap out blue facemasks with gray facemasks, BYU's uniform canon increases to 26 according to Nixon. With only 12 games on the regular season schedule, BYU won't be able to wear every combination this season.
So who got to choose the uniform combinations for the upcoming season? By now you can probably guess: the players.
"We invited the leadership council that Kalani has selected. There were about 22 players that were in attendance. The players worked together to decide what they were going to wear. We presented all the [uniform] combinations on a big-screen TV in our conference room. We brought in food for the boys to eat so we were not in a rush. We went game-by-game and chose the uniforms for that week."
With the addition of the new navy helmet, navy combinations were more popular amongst the players this year than they were last year.
"What was really cool to see was the difference between this year and last year - the balance that happened between royal and navy pretty seamlessly. Last year, there was probably a little bit more convincing on the 'hey let's wear navy.' This year, we didn't have to do any convincing. At the end of the session, it was amazing to see the 12 different combos and how well they complemented [each other] and how they were distributed evenly...they did a really good job of mixing it up and getting innovative."
Most games were decided by the leadership group as a whole, but some games were decided by individual players who were passionate about a certain game or opponent. "I'll never forget Baylor Romney, and I can't tell you the combo, but Baylor Romney for the Baylor game was like, 'This is the combo we're wearing for the Baylor game.'"
The leadership council was on board and Romney's wishes were granted. After all, who better to choose the combination against Baylor than Baylor himself? Romney's suggestion was a perfect example of the player experience culture at BYU. Romney (who is known as a more quiet, reserved person among BYU fans) was given a voice, and his voice will publicly be heard on October 16th when BYU takes on Baylor.
Football season is upon us - BYU players reported to training camp on Wednesday. With every uniform combination this season, BYU fans will know how the decision was made, and players will know where the uniforms came from.