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Jim Polzin: Why dark uniform pairings can make a game 'impossible to follow' for some fans
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Jim Polzin: Why dark uniform pairings can make a game 'impossible to follow' for some fans

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Brad Davison, right, and the Badgers wore their traditional red road jerseys while Ohio State chose an alternate black uniform during their Dec. 11 game in Columbus.

It’s been nearly 18 years since what had to be one of the more unwatchable games in University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program history, and it had nothing to do with a stagnant offense or scoring droughts.

The Badgers traveled to Illinois for a Feb. 18, 2004, matchup of two of the top teams in the Big Ten Conference. UW came out wearing its red-colored road uniforms, while the Fighting Illini came out in … orange?

It was a nightmare for those of us watching on television. WISC (Ch. 3), which aired the ESPN regional broadcast of the Badgers’ 65-57 loss that Wednesday night, fielded between 75 to 100 calls from angry viewers.

Why am I bringing up this now? To give you an idea of what Pete Schramm was going through Dec. 11 when he tuned in to watch UW play at Ohio State.

The Badgers again showed up in their traditional road uniforms, while Ohio State chose an alternate black set, and most of us probably thought nothing of it. But that was a nightmare combination for Schramm, who has color blindness.

Schramm, a lifelong Madison resident who attended UW-Madison, isn’t the type to get irate. He only casually brought it up as a question to me on Twitter as I sat at home monitoring the game from my couch. “Do these jersey combinations look especially awesome to most people?” Schramm said about 25 minutes after tipoff late that Saturday morning. “Because if you are color blind, these games are borderline unwatchable.”

Schramm kept watching while my interest was piqued, particularly since it wasn’t the first time the issue had been raised. The Buckeyes beat the Badgers 73-55 just more than a month ago and with the rematch on tap for Thursday night at the Kohl Center, where No. 13 UW (13-2, 4-1 Big Ten) will host No. 16 Ohio State (10-3, 4-1), now seems like a great time to make the following plea:

To the Badgers and other teams, pro and college, and the organizations that oversee them: Please just stick to whites and darks when it comes to uniform pairings. That seems like a simple request, and maybe it sounds boring to some fans, but it sure would make life easier on Schramm and other people who are color blind.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Men are at much higher risk for being born with color blindness than women, who seldom have the problem. An estimated one in 10 males has some form of color deficiency. Color blindness is more common among men of Northern European descent.”

Schramm, 39, discovered he was color blind as a kindergartner. As he tells it, he got handed a box of crayons without labels on them and the tree he drew with orange leaves and a green trunk was a sign that something was up.

The irony all these years later is that one of Schramm’s favorite jokes to tell is about how he doesn’t see why everybody makes such a big deal about the fall season. “The leaves are alive and then they’re dead, that’s all I see,” he said. “Apparently everyone else is getting quite a show.”

While most everyone else was getting a show Dec. 11 when UW traveled to Ohio State, Schramm was struggling at times to distinguish between the Badgers and Buckeyes. All he saw was two teams wearing dark colors and so began his hunt for clues, whether it’s stripes on uniforms or shapes of numbers.

Battles for rebounds and scrambles for loose balls are situations that challenge Schramm’s eyes the most. It sometimes is difficult for him to understand how a team turned over the ball.

“Any time there’s any measure of a scramble or stuff is going on in the (paint),” Schramm said, “you kind of have to sit and wait until someone comes out and you can identify them.”

Could this all have been avoided? Absolutely, though it’s unclear exactly where the breakdown happened in this situation.

While the home team typically notifies the visiting team if it won’t be wearing a light or white color, that communication doesn’t always happen. If there’s any sort of disagreement, the home team will be forced to wear white, and officials also can make the home team change if there’s not enough difference between the two colors.

When I reached out to the Big Ten for clarification, the only response from a spokesperson was this: “NCAA rules only require that the jersey colors be ‘contrasting.’”

I can’t help thinking that perhaps Schramm would have been able to watch the UW-Ohio State game without any difficulty had I spoken up sooner. This situation came up last season when the Badgers wore red and Michigan State wore green for a Christmas Day game in East Lansing, which I thought was cool until frustrated comments started rolling in on Twitter.

One of them came from Paul Junio, a UW-Madison grad who lives in Oconomowoc. Junio commented at the time that the game was “impossible to follow” for his son, who is color blind and can’t distinguish between red and green.

I intended to follow up last season with Junio and others who’d commented that day but, well, the next game arrived … and the next game … and pretty soon it was March and a busy season was over. Perhaps a story back then would have opened eyes for someone at UW or in the Big Ten office and Ohio State would have been asked to wear its white jerseys last month.

Or maybe not.

“Yes, it’s annoying, I wish they wouldn’t do it,” said Junio, who admits he’s a traditionalist when it comes to uniforms. “But it’s driven by the almighty dollar. I don’t expect anything to change. I’m a realist as far as that goes. My preference, give me a (traditional) home uniform and an away uniform. I know that’s not going to be the case because jerseys sell, money talks and that’s the way it is.”

Junio said this week that the entire family was sitting around watching that UW-Michigan State game when he noticed a bemused look on his son’s face. Ben Junio, who was 23 at the time, isn’t a sports fan but knew enough to wonder aloud why 10 players from the same team were running around on the court.

The elder Junio could sympathize with his son in part because he still vividly remembers how challenging it was to watch that UW-Illinois game back in the winter of 2004. Just more than a decade later came the loudest outcry of all from people with color blindness: a November 2015 game between the Buffalo Bills (red) and New York Jets (green) that was part of the NFL’s “Color Rush” campaign.

The NFL realized the error in its ways and made changes, and the Big Ten should follow suit. A UW athletic department official said last week that he doesn’t remember hearing about any complaints from fans after either the Michigan State game last season or the Ohio State game last month, so consider this a formal grievance on their behalf.

Schramm was frustrated but says he isn’t the type to call an athletic department to voice his concerns. Hopefully he won’t have to even consider that option from this point forward.

There’s a lesson here, whether it’s accommodating people who are color blind or some other issue: Be considerate because we all could be looking at the same thing and yet see it differently.

Fave 5: Jim Polzin picks his favorite stories of 2021

Jim Polzin stepped into a new role in June, going from University of Wisconsin men’s basketball beat reporter to Lee Sports Wisconsin columnist.

Polzin wore both hats later that month when, on back-to-back days, he broke the news about seven seniors confronting coach Greg Gard in a secretly recorded meeting during the 2020-21 season and followed up with a column about how that recording had exposed cracks in the program’s foundation.

Neither one of those pieces made the list of Polzin’s favorite stories for 2021.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

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