Thursday, October 11, 2007

Good Science Can't Save a Bad Idea:

The NHL's New "Uniform System."
By Brandon Keim

Basically, it stinks. Literally and figuratively.
Actual game testing was reserved for this season, when it was already too late to call the jerseys back. And that's when players pointed out something that Reebok might be forgiven for failing to anticipate, but can't be excused for not learning through real-life testing: just because jerseys don't absorb sweat doesn't mean the sweat disappears. Instead of being absorbed by jerseys and socks and evaporating, the sweat gathered underneath them.

By the end of pre-season training, players around the league vocally denounced the uniforms. Sweat, they said, now soaked their equipment, literally pouring into their gloves and skates, filling them like buckets and making it hard to play with the skill that Bettman and Reebok promised to "enhance." Unsurprisingly, players said the unbreathable uniforms were uncomfortably not. So much for 4 to 10 degrees cooler.

It also turned out that much of the savings in weight and drag came from making the uniforms more form-fitting than before, which in turn required the jerseys to be much more elastic. That makes it possible for players to pull jerseys over each other's heads during fights -- a very dangerous situation. But that's only when the fighters can actually get a grasp on the slippery fabric. When they can't, fights continue longer than before, rather than ending in a wrestling match -- again, a dangerous situation. Even if one feels that fighting doesn't belong in the game, it's there now, and isn't about to go away. For these players, the jersey puts them at increased risk of injury.

So what's Reebok going to do? At first, they and the league acted like nothing was wrong. Only after Sidney Crosby, the boy superstar on whom the NHL has placed its fading dreams of American success, complained did they say that the uniform system would be tweaked, though neither Reebok nor the NHL have been specific about any changes. A return to the old, perfectly good jerseys is, however, unlikely.

A decade of painful decline -- in the quality of the NHL game, the interest of its fans and the economic health of its teams -- has shown that Gary Bettman is incapable of learning from or admitting his mistakes, of which the new uniforms are merely the latest. Reebok's assorted scientific comparisons also left out the most important number of all: the new jerseys sell for twice as much as the old ones.
If it wasn't for bad ideas I'm not sure Bettman and company would have any ideas at all.

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