At least it wasn’t a wardrobe malfunction.
Now that would have really been embarrassing.
Arkansas State was in a little bit of trouble as soon as Saturday’s game at Auburn kicked off. The Red Wolves were knowingly breaking the rules, but they understood that when they took the field.
Arkansas State was assessed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct immediately following the opening kickoff in its 38-9 defeat to Auburn, and the Red Wolves knew the flag was coming.
New ASU coach Bryan Harsin elected to dress his team out in gray-colored jerseys when they faced the Tigers and former coach Gus Malzahn.
The jerseys, which had red numerals, didn’t comply with NCAA rules, though.
So after Auburn kick returner Quan Bray took the opening kickoff 33 yards, the officials penalized ASU for failing to adhere to the NCAA’s new uniform dress code. The NCAA adopted legislation during the off-season that states a team’s uniform must have contrasting numbers to the color of the jersey.
In other words, a team wearing colored jerseys must have white numerals while a team wearing white jerseys must have colored numerals, or at least a color that is distinctly different from the dominant shade.
Arkansas State’s jerseys were gray but had red numerals, which was a violation of the new rule.
Harsin said he decided to let the Red Wolves wear the jerseys even though he knew it meant they would be penalized. It was a bit of coaching strategy meant to motivate his players against the Southeastern Conference school.
Asked if he knew about the new rule, Harsin said he was fully aware of the consequences his team would face if they chose to wear them.
“I did, yep. I did,” Harsin said. “That was my decision.”
Harsin appeared uncomfortable speaking about the subject. But when pressed, he offered up a somewhat short but vague explanation for his decision.
“I think that’s something for our team (to know), but that was a decision I made and I wouldn’t change it,” Harsin said.
The opening-play penalty had a rather large effect on Auburn’s first drive.
Bray’s return put the ball at the Auburn 33. But with the penalty added to the spot, the Tigers were in business near midfield at the 48.
Ten plays later, Auburn was in the end zone and leading 7-0. Arkansas State trailed the rest of the night.
Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir said he agreed with Harsin’s decision to break out the controversial jerseys even with the consequences that followed.
“I fully support Coach Harsin’s decision to wear the jerseys,” Mohajir said. “I stand behind his decision 100 percent.”
Harsin spoke with NCAA officials earlier in the week to discuss the jerseys. He was informed of the penalty the Red Wolves would receive if they decided to wear them and chose to go ahead with it anyway.
Arkansas State has been in possession of the gray jerseys since the end of last season.
Malzahn, who helped lead ASU to the Sun Belt Conference title, purchased the jerseys as a reward for a second straight championship. The intention was to wear the uniforms in the GoDaddy.com Bowl, but Malzahn left for Auburn and the jerseys were shelved.
Since then, ASU players have sought any opportunity to wear the gear. But when the Red Wolves matched up with Auburn and Malzahn, it appeared like the perfect time to break the gray jerseys out.
Several of the Red Wolves were asked about the uniforms, but none seemed interested in providing insight into why they would wear a uniform they would knowingly be penalized for wearing.
ASU quarterback Adam Kennedy liked the style and color of the uniforms but declined to comment further.
Running back David Oku said he wasn’t sure what was up with the jerseys or the decision to wear them.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Oku said. “That’s coach Harsin’s (decision). It’s cool wearing the jersey, but we still lost. It was cool at the time being, but at this point and time, I really don’t care about it.”
Compounding the issue, ASU was penalized a second time for wearing the uniforms when it started the second half with them on.
Arkansas State return man Julian Jones returned the kickoff to begin the third quarter to the ASU 25. After the play, the officials enforced a 13-yard penalty back to the 12 for what was termed a “uniform violation.”
The Red Wolves still managed to drive all the way to the Auburn 3-yard line before settling for Brian Davis’ 21-yard field goal.
Arkansas State has experimented with several different color combinations since Hugh Freeze was named head coach in 2011.
That trend continued last season under Malzahn.
Harsin acknowledged the gray uniforms were purchased before he was hired as head coach. But Harsin would not commit when asked if he would allow the team to wear them again.
“I don’t know yet,” Harsin said.
It’s not the first time a rule about jersey colors has been broken.
In 2008, Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll allowed his team to wear home jerseys against UCLA to revitalize an old tradition even though the Trojans were the visiting team. USC was penalized one time out for “incorrect equipment.”
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel forfeited one of his timeouts to balance the situation for both teams.
The NCAA has since changed that rule and allows both teams to wear home jerseys when they both agree to it and the colors are not the same.
For the game, Arkansas State committed six penalties for 53 yards. Over half the yards penalized (27) were assessed on the two uniform violations.