Notre Dame uniforms expected to stay largely the same

Deal with Under Armour won't topple tradition

BOB WIENEKE
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- A half-hour or so after Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick completed a press conference announcing that Under Armour will replace Adidas as the outfitter for ND’s sports teams, the two sat down in an office on the second floor of the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.

When Swarbrick entered the room holding in one hand a glass of iced tea and in the other an ND football jersey (produced by Under Armour) presented to him earlier, Plank looked to his left and greeted his new business partner.

“Thank you, by the way,” Plank said.

Which is what a large faction of Notre Dame traditionalists is likely saying as well.

With Tuesday’s news already old news by the time the agreement was unveiled, questions weren’t about who the new outfitter of ND athletics would be. Rather, concerns by some were about whether Notre Dame would be going all Oregon in terms of uniforms, and whether venerable ND Stadium would become the Times Square of football venues.

The answers? No. And no.

“Simple is best. Clean is best. Bold and strong,” Plank said. “There’s lots of elements that we can lean on to make that happen.

We don’t have to be the loudest guy in the room in order to be impactful. We’re going to do what Notre Dame needs, where Notre Dame asks us to help.”

And signage?

“No,” Swarbrick said, “there will be no change to our approach to signage with regard to any of our facilities.”

Change does, however, arrive in the form of the 10-year deal that ESPN reported could be worth about $90 million in cash and merchandise combined.

Tuesday’s announcement came before a large contingent of athletic department members and university employees, although men’s basketball coach Mike Brey was in Tallahassee, Fla., for Tuesday night’s game at Florida State and football coach Brian Kelly was out of town. No members of the school’s athletic teams were in the room.

“Under Armour is a rising star in the industry. Their CEO, Kevin Plank, is very entrepreneurial,” ND women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw said. “We will be the lead school for Under Armour. I think they will do a great job for us.”

CBS Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming sees the move as a plus for Notre Dame. He pointed to the popularity of the Under Armour All-America Game, a showcase of high school talent, as a barometer for the company’s popularity. In fact, as he scrolled through his list of top players from this year, he noted that most played in the Under Armour game as opposed to the more established U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

“Part of their selection of a school comes down to equipment. They talk about academics, but not nearly as much as NFL, equipment and girls,” Lemming said. “It’s their parents that want the academics and the kids are (savvy) enough to talk about it, but they all mention the equipment.”

One future Irish player, though, isn’t a huge fan of the move. Wide receiver Corey Holmes of St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., expressed his disappointment on Twitter on the night word of the switch from Adidas to Under Armour was first reported, although the predominant Twitter feeling that night among recruits seemed pro-Under Armour.

“I’ve worn Under Armour and I know from wearing Under Armour that it’s not my preference,” said Holmes, who quickly said the switch would not change his decision. “But I have worn Adidas gloves and stuff like that, and that I’ve had a good experience with.”

Former Irish linebacker Dan Fox, who recently completed his eligibility, though, has heard of the switch, and he brushed off any impact.

“Personally, I wouldn’t really care what I wear. I know Under Armour has a lot of really good equipment,” Fox said. “But at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what I wear. As long as you go out there and work hard and win, that’s all that really matters. I don’t think what brand you’re wearing really matters that much, for me at least.”

In terms of other sports that may be heavily impacted by Tuesday’s announcement:

Plank discussed his company’s expanding role in grassroots basketball, something 247Sports.com director of basketball scouting Jerry Meyer too has seen.

“Under Armour definitely has developed a presence in grassroots basketball. Are kids on the street kickin’ Under Armours vs. Nikes or Adidas, I don’t know. Probably not that much. But that’s not really what counts in this game as far as basketball recruiting goes. It’s more about Under Armour having a presence, sponsoring AAU teams, sponsoring some of the top high school teams.”

Plank pointed out that Maryland soccer coach Sasho Cirovski, whose team lost to Notre Dame in last month’s national title match, has input in developing soccer footwear for the company.

“Building out and the expansion of our soccer business is something that is an absolute priority for us,” Plank said.

Plank said that the company will be able to outfit all 26 ND sports, including hockey. However, there are sports for which a certain piece of equipment may not be available.

“Every sport that we have here we’ve built for another university at one point or another. We’re ready for it,” Plank, a former Maryland football player, said. “Now, there are some places where we won’t have a pole-vaulting shoe and those are things with non-competitive brands, we encourage a coach, if we don’t make a product or if we don’t have it, there doesn’t need to be an Under Armour logo on everything. My goal is advantaging the student-athletes first and foremost beyond anything else.

“We’d want them to wear the best shoe on the market. We’d want them to be respectful of our partnership at the same time. So we’ll make the right decision on that. But yeah, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be (Nike or Adidas).”

“So there will be some differences,” Swarbrick said, “but it’s just a matter of sitting down on a sport-by-sport basis and saying, ‘OK, what’s covered and what’s not, and how do we do it.’”

Plank pointed out that the switch in certain equipment may be challenging early, but he also believes ND’s athletes will be rewarded.

“Any change is never the easiest thing in the world,” Plank said. “It’s easy to stay and do the same thing, but we think ultimately it might be ripping the Band-Aid off in some places, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot better by the end of it.”

Tribune staff writer Curt Rallo contributed to this story.

Jack Swarbrick, vice president and director of athletics for the University of Notre Dame, left, and Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour, hold up a jersey Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at a news conference unveiling a 10-year agreement between the University and Under Armour for the exclusive performance footwear and apparel supplier contract. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ