The Akron Zips did not receive a single vote for the most recent AP Top 25 poll in men's basketball, but they're making some big waves around the NCAA.
After starting this season 4-4, they've won 11 straight. They've soared to the top of the MAC East and have the second-longest winning streak in the nation (Kansas has won 18 in a row). But it's not just the recent spate of wins that has giving the Zips so much buzz.
On Monday morning, Akron teased their Twitter followers with this:
Later that day, Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com reported that Akron planned to wear the team's Twitter handle (@ZipsMBB) on the back of their jerseys for the game against conference rival Ohio on February 2.
B/R's own Gabe Zaldivar wrote about it on Monday as well.
The game will be televised on ESPN U, and the Twitter-handle ploy is part of the school's Social Media Night. They will also have "the sidelines near each bench and the basket supports...adorned with the hashtags #ZipsGameday and #ThinkBigger" (per the Akron Athletics website).
By Monday evening, however, the Twitter jerseys had been nixed. The school's Senior Associate AD for External Relations, Dan Satter, said in a statement that they "had asked the NCAA if this was permissible and were told it is not."
At least the front of their jerseys will look cool. Akron's Director of Marketing, Brad Swanson, tweeted a picture of the uniforms, which will now merely read "Zips" on the back:
Although Matt Norlander disagrees with me, saying the "stand-alone Z' on the front is the opposite of hip—or zippy," I think these jerseys are bold, eye-catching and appropriate for a school trying to increase its national profile.
At any rate, the Zips will still feature their Twitter handle on the back of their warm-ups, and Social Media Night will proceed as planned. The shooting shirts will look like this:
Technically, putting a Twitter handle on the back of your uniform is not allowed, though it's probably just a matter of time.
According to Jeff Eisenberg of Yahoo! Sports:
Under NCAA rules, teams are only allowed to have the name of a player, institution or mascot on the back of its jersey. The NCAA apparently has been reluctant to waive this rule under any circumstances because it fears there will be too many frivolous requests for exceptions.
Well, rules are rules, and this decision from the NCAA shouldn't be all that surprising.
They are certainly known for being a conservative organization (when it suits them). A week prior to striking down Akron's promotional attempt, the NCAA denied Iowa the right to memorialize a former player.
Former Hawkeye, Chris Street, died in an automobile accident in 1993. The school requested permission to wear "Street" on the backs of their jerseys to honor the 20th anniversary of his death (per Eisenberg).
The NCAA said no. Instead, Iowa wore a commemorative patch for Street.
But these stringent jersey rules are not hard and fast. In December, the NCAA permitted a tribute to the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Providence wore "Sandy Hook" on the back of their jerseys and Xavier wore it on the front of theirs (via Eisenberg and USA Today respectively).
Also, earlier in December, NC State was allowed to don jerseys bearing the phrase "Don't Ever Give Up" for the 18th annual Jimmy V Classic. This message on their backs honored former coach Jim Valvano, who led the school to the 1983 national championship.
Valvano popularized the phrase in 1993 before succumbing to cancer. It has become synonymous with courage and perseverance ever since.
While this was a tribute to a legendary figure in college basketball, it was not a spontaneous act of solidarity, as was the case with Providence and Xavier.
This was a pre-planned jersey designed as part of a promotional event, and even if proceeds are donated to cancer charities, it shows that the NCAA is willing to make exceptions to its own rules about uniforms in cases that are not spontaneous.
Moreover, the NCAA's refusal to allow Iowa to honor the memory of their player who tragically lost his life shows the utter inconsistency of their judgment. It speaks to a short-sightedness in applying the very rules which they themselves have set.
Should college teams be given free rein over what to print on the back of their jerseys?
So it's clear that the rules about what can be printed on the back of a uniform are not set in stone. After all, it can even be the name of a mascot. So the NCAA cannot continue to allow some worthy tributes while striking down others.
And while a promotional ploy centered around social media is a far cry from honoring those who have passed away, it seems likely that these rules will increasingly be given more slack.
Five years from now, all players might be allowed to wear their own Twitter handles on the back their jerseys. It could even work for the NBA. I'd love to see Al Harrington wearing a jersey that said "@cheddahcheese7" on the back (please, verified handles only).
And regardless of the ruling by the NCAA in this case, the social media promotion by Akron has already worked.
It gained national media attention from numerous outlets, stoked debate, got the hashtag "#ZipsGameday" trending ("Because @ZipsMBB fans are awesome!") and garnered the Zips' account 100 new followers in just 24 hours.
So although we will not see Twitter handles on team jerseys just yet, Akron's Social Media Night has succeeded in its aim four days before it even took place.