INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana is throwing uniformity out of its football attire this fall.
The school has unveiled six helmet designs the Hoosiers will wear this season — covering everything from a retro look to the school's more traditional fare to something that seems better suited for a science fiction flick. The Hoosiers are expected to wear each sometime this season, and the changes are already having an impact on what many Hoosiers football fans consider the second-most important facet of the athletic program.
"It's sparked some interest in the recruiting," Wilson said before telling athletic department donors at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis that each helmet will be used at least once during the season.
For a fan base that prefer long-standing traditions such as the basketball team's candy-striped warm-up pants and the logo that connects the letters "I'' and "U'' in the form of a pitchfork, it's a dramatically different look. But in Bloomington, football has always been treated a little differently.
When Sam Wyche took over as coach in 1983, he introduced the italic pitchfork logo on a red helmet. The next year, Bill Mallory took over, changed the helmet color to crimson and used a block "I'' that remained the norm for the rest of his coaching career. In 1997, first-time head coach Cam Cameron switched to a black helmet with a circular IU logo that mimicked the San Francisco 49ers design, and when Cameron was not rehired after the 2001 season, the Hoosiers reverted to their traditional crimson helmets with the non-italic pitchfork design.
Indiana's helmets haven't changed much since then, though Wilson has used a white helmet with a red pitchfork logo and last season the team used a pink logo during October to promote cancer awareness.
Now the Hoosiers are following the lead of Oregon and other schools that have been using multiple helmets.
Indiana is adding a two-toned crimson-and-cream helmet with a larger IU logo, another bearing the design from the state flag and the most striking design of all — the crimson-and-chrome candy-striped helmet.
Wilson said the crimson-and-chrome received the most applause from his current players and has created a buzz among recruits, too.
"The chrome stuff is in vogue and the candy stripe look is unique to Indiana and basketball and swimming in particular," Wilson said. "We liked the look and it was something the administration got approved. We don't want to be gimmicky, or an Arena League type of thing, but the helmets are cool."
So far, there have been few complaints from inside or outside the program.
"Frankly, I thought there would be a lot more controversy, but the feedback we've gotten has been uniformly good," athletic director Fred Glass said. "I think players like the chrome, two-tone look with the candy stripes. We'll see how it goes."
There is a method to this madness.
One of the helmets is white with crimson numbers on the side, a design the Hoosiers used during the 1950s. The only change is the red stripe down the middle of the helmet.
The Hoosiers also are bringing back the block "I'' helmets Mallory popularized during the most successful football tenure in school history. Wilson said both helmets could be used during games to honor alumni, such as homecoming.
Wilson also likes the idea of replacing the pitchfork logo with the state flag emblem — a gold torch surrounded by an outer circle of thirteen stars, an inner semicircle of five stars and a 19th, larger, star at the top of the torch, crowned by the word Indiana. He said it represents the Hoosiers are playing for more than just themselves or their school.
Why make all these changes now, as Wilson is about to embark on his third season as Indiana's head coach?
"We were told it would guarantee that we tackle better, score more points and win more games, and if not, we'd get our money back," Wilson joked.
The real question is whether it will make a difference on the field.
Indiana has played in only one bowl game since 1994, has gone just 5-19 over the past two seasons and is eager to see if starting quarterback Tre Roberson can return to form after missing the final 10 games last season with a broken lower left leg.
Wilson knows new helmets won't change the Hoosiers' history. But if the new designs get recruits to take a longer look at Indiana, perhaps it will lead to a future as bright and shiny as the chrome domes the players will wear this fall.
"It will be nice to have them for the summer," Wilson said, "and we've already started to see it have an impact on recruiting."
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