Uniforms: Do They Really Have to Match?

Some 4x400m teams from the Tolleson Invitational. Arizona Milesplit Photo.

At the Chandler Rotary meet I had the opportunity to have lunch with some coaches (thank you Jeff Guy it was delicious). From talking with them I learned that different officials have been enforcing the uniform rule differently across the state. Some coaches down on the south side were a little annoyed about how some followed it to the letter of the law, noting enforcement seemed more lax at Phoenix area meets. Many track fans here in the valley have observed 3 or 4 uniforms a piece from schools like Copper Canyon and Desert Vista, but are they allowed to do that?

The rule in question is the NFHS Track and Field Rule 4-3-2a: “Each team member shall wear the same color and design of school uniform…"

The same color is the same color. I'm reasonably certain some slight variation is allowed due to sunlight exposure and varying laundering procedures applied to two uniforms from the same stock, and probably even to different dye lots of the same color, but “same color" should be a fairly straight-forward determination. Purple is purple. Red is not maroon. Navy is not royal.

Design is a trickier issue. According to one long time track official, “Design includes colors and ornamentation--stripes, lettering, piping, etc." Design matters. Design must match.

The singlets to the right fail to satisfy the requirement of design matching. Even with everything else being the same, a relay team wearing both of those uniforms could be DQ'd if noticed by an official who wishes to enforce the rules.

Design, however, is not style. Again, quoting a veteran official, "Style includes cut, tailoring, and fabric." matching is not prescribed by Rule 4-3-2a. To be legal for cross country or relays, the cut, tailoring and fabric of corresponding uniform items need not be identical.

I think could safely summarize like this: So long as the teammates are wearing the same color uniform top and bottom with the same striping and lettering (design), then they would be in compliance, even though the cut of the top or bottom is different, or the length of the bottom is different, or the material is different (style).

Suddenly, this seems a whole lot simpler to me. I will illustrate by taking a few cases in point:

1. Two school uniforms with any difference in imprint or sublimation--legal for individual events, not legal for relays or cross country.

2. Two school uniforms with same imprint or sublimation, but any difference in design such as location or types of striping or color panels--legal for individual events, not legal for relays or cross country.

3. Two school uniforms of completely different fit (perhaps a compression top and a traditional loose-fitting singlet) of the same color with the same imprint--legal for individual events, legal for relays, and legal for cross country.

4. Two shorts of the same color and style, one with and one without piping--legal for individual events, not legal for relays and cross country.

5. School issued throwers shorts and compression shorts of the same color with no variation in design (stripes, piping, or panels--legal for individual events, legal for relays, and legal for cross country.

In summary, for individual events, uniform variation--whether of color, design, or style--simply doesn't matter. For cross country and relays, any variation in color or design does matter. We all have to make our peace with that.

Moral of the story? Be prepared, no matter who is officiating the meet and you will not have to worry about getting DQ's. Have color and design matching. Make life easy for yourself and for your meet officials.

As an editorial side note, I don't have the slightest clue why rule writers and officials care so much about every bit of the uniforms on the body, but ignore socks and head bands. If different color spandex gives you an advantage, surely cookie monster socks do too right? Some mysteries in life I will never know the answer to.