Penn State is going old-school: “Black Shoes. Basic Blues. No Names. All Game,” reads a team poster.
This marks a reversion to a 125-year long tradition at Penn State, noted head coach James Franklin in a statement released Thursday, after just three seasons with named jerseys.
"In 2012, for the first time in the program’s history, names adorned the back of the jersey to forever identify the men who stayed loyal, sacrificed, and chose to play for this institution during [its] most difficult time," said Coach Franklin. "It’s time to bring back the tradition that represented Penn State for 125 years."
In 2011, Penn State was rocked by one of the largest scandals in NCAA history. Former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested after a grand jury report found that Mr. Sandusky had sexually assaulted a 10-year old boy. He was later convicted of 45 out of 48 counts of molesting 10 boys in a 15-year period.. In one of the most controversial outcomes, long-time head coach Joe Paterno was fired from his position in what he had said would be his last season before retiring.
When Bill O’Brien came into the head coach position in 2012, the program was in upheaval. Strict NCAA sanctions meant players could transfer to other teams without penalty. To honor the players who stayed, Mr. O’Brien elected to add names to back of team’s jerseys – something that hadn’t been done in the program's previous 125 years. But now, the team looks poised to return to old traditions.
Other top-tier schools have followed the “no-name” jersey tradition. At Notre Dame, names have only graced its football jerseys during several bowl games. And, even in those rare moments, traditionalists have been less than thrilled. In comments on a Bleacher Report article highlighting the name-adorned jerseys to be used in the 2012 title game, one person wrote “Say it ain’t so. If the Mayans are right and world ends before the game, this will be why.”
Others were indifferent to the decision. Another commenter noted, “Now when we watch [Notre Dame] win the game I won’t hear my wife ask, ‘Why don’t they wear names on their uniforms?’”
University of Southern California's football jerseys are also nameless. In a 2009 USC blog, spokesman Jordan Moore explained, “USC is a beacon of tradition in an ever-changing landscape of college football. Even a school like Notre Dame – a program that’s dripping with tradition – went with nameplates on its jerseys at points in the last decade or so.”
Mr. Moore writes that the namelessness comes down to "two all-important factors ... tradition and team," themes that permeate Notre Dame's and Penn State’s storied football programs.
As Franklin said on Thursday, “We are a strong family, playing for one goal, one university, and there is only one name that truly matters, Penn State.”