March Madness: The Color Schemes on the Court

Levi Strauss & Co.
March 9, 2015

Just when the hype of the Super Bowl dies down, along comes NCAA March Madness to lift our competitive spirits. The gripping month of college hoops gives fans a chance to join forces and root (or scream) for their Alma Mater. Plus, those looking to earn some extra coin —or just bragging rights in the office — fill out March Madness brackets to predict the season’s winners.

March Madness covers events running through March into the first week of April, and refers not only to the basketball tournament games themselves, but also the uproar off the court — fan dress not excluded.

Nothing takes center stage in a game day outfit quite like each squadron’s colors, shown in the saturated student section and team ensembles. The integrity of the hues is something that fans feel mighty passionate about. Case in point: when updated uniforms — riffing on school’s original hues —launched for the 2013 season, people erupted in anger. Kansas Jayhawks supporters even created a White House petition demanding that their team’s original palette of crimson, blue, and white return to the court.

Ever wonder how some of those memorable collegiate color schemes came to be? Read on for a few interesting tales (we recommend breaking these out if you need to save face after your bracket gets busted in the first round):

University of Arizona

School colors should produce a decorative college pin, flag or varsity sweater … or at least that’s what one writer for Arizona’s school newspaper declared in the November 1900 issue. The writer’s argument was intended to sway classmates to consider replacing the school’s original sage green and silver. Despite the significance — sage in reference to the indigenous sage bush and silver symbolizing the state’s mining industries — the students almost unanimously adopted cardinal red and navy blue as the new school colors.

University of Kentucky

Did you know the Big Blue Nation hasn’t always sported that sharp blue and white combo? Kentucky adopted blue and white as its official colors in 1892 — before then UK teams sported blue and light yellow. “What color blue?” This simple question from a student forced the school to get crystal clear on its particular blue hue. UK halfback Richard Stoll yanked off his necktie and held it up. Done deal. A year later, UK students officially ditched light yellow in favor of white.

University of Virginia

Apparently Kentucky isn’t the only school whose school color fate was decided by a happenstance accessory. Virginia teams originally wore grey and cardinal red, however, the colors were hard to see on dirt-covered fields. A meeting of the student body was called, and a star player turned up sporting a navy blue and orange scarf he’d brought back from a summer rowing trip at University of Oxford. A student pulled the scarf from the player’s neck, waved it to the crowd and yelled: “How will this do?” Wahoowa’s all around!

University of Kansas
Kansas’ colors are a marriage of the Ivy’s. When football arrived at KU, there was a request to add Harvard’s crimson to the school’s maize and blue color scheme. The crimson hue was intended to honor of Col John J. McCook, a Harvard alumnus who donated money for KU’s athletic field. Yale-hailing faculty, not to be overlooked, insisted their academic lineage be added to the mix as well. In 1896, crimson and “Yale” blue were adopted officially.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The origins of UW-Madison’s cardinal and white colors are a bit of a mystery. UW’s first student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal was established in 1892 — so we assume the color was associated with the university by then. The exact date when the colors were adopted, however, remains a mystery. One of the earliest references on record dates back to 1894 when the Badgers defeated Minnesota for the first time. The next day’s edition of The Daily Cardinal was printed completely in red ink.

Since passions about team colors run so strong, it should come as no surprise that students at Kentucky, Virginia, Kansas, Arizona—and the 41 other Game Day Dockers schools—are big fans sporting their most symbolic trousers during this spirited season.

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