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How BYU Football Equipment Balances Tradition and Variety with Uniform Combinations

I sat down with BYU Football Equipment Manager Billy Nixon to talk about BYU uniforms.

BYU football is 7-0 for the first time since 2001. The undefeated record through seven games isn't the only thing unique to BYU's 2020 season - for the first time in program history, the Cougars have worn seven different uniform combinations in their first seven games. Each week, the BYU equipment team teases BYU's upcoming uniform combination and for many BYU fans, learning about BYU's upcoming uniform combination has become part of the Monday morning routine. I had the opportunity to sit down with Billy Nixon who is BYU Football's Equipment Manager and the man behind the BYU Equipment twitter account that has gained a lot of traction this season. We talked about the balance between tradition and variety with BYU uniforms, the player's involvement in the decision making process, and alternate uniforms. 

The "Ghost" Look on Halloween

While multiple schools wore blackout uniforms on Halloween, BYU went the opposite direction with an all-white "ghost" look on Saturday night. Nixon said the idea "just evolved over time." While acknowledging that some fans were campaigning for a blackout on Halloween, Nixon noted that "sometimes it is fun being different." Nike makes a limited number of uniform combinations for BYU and the blackouts are no longer in the rotation. The "ghost" branding came from one of BYU's grad assistants who said, "Everyone's going blackout, you guys are going ghost." Nixon ran with the idea and the mantra that BYU was "going to be different."

In addition to the whiteout uniforms, BYU wore pink accessories against Western Kentucky in honor of breast cancer awareness month.

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Uniform Selection

Players at BYU have always had an input when it comes to selecting uniforms, but normally combinations are selected during the Spring in conjunction with the marketing team. When BYU's original schedule went away and a new schedule was being rebuilt on the fly, Nixon saw an opportunity to receive weekly player feedback. Nixon met with the leadership team once they knew they would be playing games this fall 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." 

Some of the players saw it as an opportunity to make the switch to royal uniforms full time. While they had fun with the idea, Nixon described that the idea was short lived:

All Navy

The wheels started turning. Matt Bushman was the man behind the navy on navy uniform. Troy Warner and Isaiah Kaufusi advocated for the whiteout uniforms on Halloween against Western Kentucky. As the schedule evolved so did the uniform combinations. In fact, when I spoke to Nixon this this week, BYU was still deciding on their upcoming uniform combination against Boise State:

"I wish I could tell you what we're going to wear [against Boise State], but I'm still waiting to hear back from Zach [Wilson] and Isaiah [Kaufusi]. They took it to the leadership council. I'll give you a hint, we're wearing royal, but they're still deciding on whether we're going to wear white pants or royal pants." 

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Royal vs Navy

On whether BYU tries to wear a certain number of royal combinations or navy combinations each season, Nixon said no - especially during a season where a schedule is evolving with a global pandemic. "Tom Holmoe has been very supportive of letting the players decide what they want to wear." Nixon said, "It's worked itself out. I mean, for the most part, it's been an even distribution so far. We haven't worn the same uniform twice...I think that's been exciting while maintaining our traditional brand." 

Tradition vs Variety with Alternate Uniforms

Some schools like Alabama and Notre Dame wear iconic uniforms and rarely, if ever, wear alternate uniforms. Other schools like Oregon and Oklahoma State rarely wear the same combination in the same season. BYU is trying to find the right balance, a happy medium if you will, between tradition and variety: 

"There is a balance, right, where we're trying to balance tradition and keeping that that sharp look: the double stripe [on the helmet] and the western stripe down the pants and on the sleeve, we're not going to go away from that. But we are going to allow the players to have a little bit more flexibility with the exact uniform combination. So, again, it's that balance we're trying to make sure every single time we go on the the field, it's the BYU look. But it's a little bit different to reflect the personality of the program."

Helmet Colors

I've seen dozens of mock helmets from BYU fans over the years. I've seen even more photoshopped uniform combinations with all the variety of uniform combinations you could imagine. I asked Billy what the process would look like if BYU wanted to add another helmet color:

Timeline for Alternate Uniforms

I've heard stories across college football of some alternate uniforms that take years to design and execute. I asked Billy what the process is like when BYU wants to design a new look. Nixon said, "It depends." For example, BYU wore a throwback uniform last year against Washington in celebration of the 150th anniversary of college football. Nixon noted that the design itself was simple, but the process was not. "All we had to do is bring in decals and socks," Nixon said. Despite the perceived simplicity, it took around one year to go through the design and approval process. The royal away jerseys were something that BYU had wanted to bring back for a long time, but it also took years to bring that idea to life: 

"We knew we wanted the royal away jersey, but that was years in the making with Nike. They [Nike] only produce so many jerseys for us per year, different jersey combinations, so we had to trade out the black uniforms. That's why that process took so long, but I think that that's one that we all enjoy. I think we all love the look of royals on the road now. So some of those decisions take a lot longer, especially at this level of trying to coordinate with Nike.

Impact on Recruiting

Last week, I conducted a small-scale survey of BYU recruits asking them to weigh in on their favorite uniform combinations. My main takeaway? Recruits love talking about uniforms. I asked Billy how uniforms and equipment can impact a program. Nixon said, "I think that the bigger selling point for recruits is for them to know that they're a part of that [the decision making] process, that we value their opinion and that we want them to be a part of the culture making these decisions. That's huge and also for them to know they're going to be taken care of. They're going to come in here, they're going to play four or five years, they're going to get loaded in gear, and they're going to represent a great brand that has one hundred and fifty years of meaning behind it."