Then-Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien's decision in 2012 to add names to the back of the Nittany Lions' football jerseys seemed to signal a new era for the program and was seen by many as a clear mark that things will never be the same again. Given the timing of the decision, just months after Joe Paterno had been removed as head coach amid controversy and not too long after the passing of the iconic head coach, O'Brien's new way of running the program had already been a target of criticism by longtime Penn State fans still coming to grips with how things seemingly blew up right in front of them.
O'Brien simply wanted to add names to the uniforms to honor the players, especially since they were already paying a heavy price for others' mistakes. Free transfers to other FBS programs were part of the hefty NCAA sanctions dropped on Penn State's football program upon review of the university's handling and responses to the infamous and disturbing Jerry Sandusky scandal. Adding names to the jerseys was a small change that let everyone watching a Penn State game know the names of those who stayed loyal in the face of adversity. It was a nice touch in 2012 and things stayed that way under James Franklin in his first year on the job.
Aside from one homecoming game, Penn State players kept their names on their jerseys from the season opener through the Pinstripe Bowl victory over Boston College. Now, Franklin is taking the names off the jerseys. The timing was just right for a return to one of the most identifiable traditions associated with the program.
"The 2012 team, permanently recognized in Beaver Stadium, will hold an enduring place in our program’s history," Franklin explained. "Their commitment will never be forgotten. "However, it’s time we bring back the tradition that represented Penn State for 125 years. We are a strong family, playing for one goal, one university and there is only one name that truly matters, Penn State."
Penn State has rarely modified its uniform over the course of the program's history. Changes are often subtle and negligible.The removal of the white collar and sleeve striping happened back in 2011, and at the time that was seen as a big change. When Penn State signed on with Nike in the early 1990s it was a big deal just to see the patented and iconic Nike swoosh added to the jerseys. When the names went on in 2012 it was a completely different issue, and one that carried special meaning to those within the program.
But time has passed by. The NCAA lifted the sanctions on the program after cutting the postseason ban in half just in time to allow Penn State an opportunity to play in a bowl game last season. As far as the program is concerned, it is time to get back to its roots. Penn State is rooted in simplicity, which will be the motto for this upcoming season in Happy Valley.
Black shoes. Basic blues. No names. All game.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.