At This N.C.A.A. Tournament, Orange Is the New Bracket

[See our complete guide to March Madness.]

INDIANAPOLIS – This year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a metaphorical color wheel. Green for the hundreds of millions of dollars it will reap even without fans. Red for the anger some players express at being cut out of the winnings they make. And blue for the isolation that others feel when stuck in a hotel with 68 teams at the start of a three-week survival game.

Chromatically, however, these are pale compared to the bracket in the Midwest, where there is – in very vivid colors – a pigment that is not often primary in the world of sports: orange.

And there is a lot of that.

There’s Illinois Orange. There’s Oklahoma State Orange. There is Clemson Orange, which is very orange. And there are the Syracuse Orange, which is also orange. And when Tennessee plays Oregon State in a first-round game on Friday, there will be a swarm of oranges, a spectacle made only by limiting the number of fans (in this case, orange-clad) who can enter the tournament. is dampened.

There is only one other team in the tournament that has orange as the dominant color. This is Texas – although burnt orange can be viewed as the red-haired stepchild of oranges, which may explain why the Longhorns were dragged off to the eastern region. (Virginia and Virginia Tech are orange, but as an accent color.)

Orange might be the color of a Buddhist monk’s robe or a California sunset, but there’s a reason college teams or sports franchises prefer more conventional hues – crimson and garnet, royal blue and navy – and prefer just splashes of orange.

“It’s a statement color. It’s a strong color, ”said Todd Radom, a writer and graphic designer who creates logos for professional sports teams, including the Los Angeles Angels, who play their games in Orange County. “Orange is a very polarizing color. You love it or you hate it. “

To make it clear where he stood on the rift, the New York-born Radom spoke on an orange iPhone and to a pair of electric orange Chuck Taylor high-tops in his closet. And for those who might question his tastes, he notes that orange was the favorite color of an undeniable referee of the style, Frank Sinatra, who called it the happiest color.

Of course, orange doesn’t wear well for everyone. When Dee Andros, the former Oregon state soccer coach, paced up and down in an orange windbreaker in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a sports columnist dubbed him “the big pumpkin.”

Orange is rare as the dominant color in professional sports. The NFL’s Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wore orange jerseys in their founding years before being redesigned uniformly. (The Broncos still traditionally wear it quite often.) The NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder occasionally wear orange uniforms, and the Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball have alternate orange jerseys. The Houston Astros had an infamous relationship with Orange in their Tequila Sunrise uniforms, winning a World Series Game 7 in orange jerseys in 2017.

Hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers are the rare team to have worn orange uniforms on a regular basis.

That so many New York teams are adding orange to their color scheme – the Knicks, Islanders, and Mets (who took their orange from the Giants after that team left for San Francisco and paired it with Dodger Blue after the Brooklyn Club moved to Los) Angeles) Wear it as an accent color – is no accident. Radom said it was due to the city’s Dutch colonial roots and the Orange-Nassau house, as well as Stuyvesant, Harlem, Nassau County and the Knickerbocker surname.

However, colleges are more likely to use orange as the dominant color.

This is largely thanks to tradition, Radom said. In the late 1800s, Syracuse wore light pink with sea green and then turned blue as an accent color before students rebelled to demand something bold. Clemson copied Auburn’s purples and oranges (along with the nickname Tigers) but switched to orange as the primary color. And the state of Oklahoma chose orange and black as a tribute to Princeton – or as an attempt to distinguish itself as the Ivy Leaguer of the prairie.

“The aesthetic of college sports is different from that of the pros,” said Radom, noting that when Red Grange of Illinois enrolled with the Chicago Bears, the fledgling franchise had borrowed the colors orange and blue from college power. “When you’re a professional franchisee, it’s easier to break down tradition. There isn’t much reason for colleges to break away from these traditional colors. “

These traditions often precede a modern understanding of color that was transformed by the “Interaction of Color”, a 1963 book by Bauhaus art theorist Josef Albers, who turned away from color theory to methodically explain how color speaks to the soul. According to Ann Field, who heads the illustration studies department at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. (The school’s long-standing logo is an orange dot.)

In the world of design, orange, which has deeper roots in Asia, has been more widely adopted in Europe (particularly Italy) in recent decades than in the US, where it is viewed more as a color for use. Think traffic cones, Home Depot stores, and the Golden Gate Bridge, which is painted International Orange. And an airplane’s black box isn’t black at all – it’s painted orange.

“When I think of Orange, it hasn’t had the good trip that Pink had,” Field said. “We say, ‘Think about pink. ‘Orange is almost elegant in Europe. In the US, that’s convenient. “

Somewhere between elegance and usefulness, Field added, orange conveys eternal joy and positive buoyancy. (This goes for Dutch football fans too.) The color can also be a trigger to raise the mind, she added. (This could explain the liveliness of Dabo Swinney, the two-time national soccer coach at Little Ol ‘Clemson.)

Of course, not all oranges are created equal.

Illinois Orange, cut blue, speaks of tradition. Oregon State Orange shared with black screams rebelliously. Tennessee’s ubiquitous orange says soft.

“Like sorbet,” said Radom.

If orange, as he suggests, is really a polarizing color, then there is at least one person who has made peace with the divide – Rick Barnes. He is in his sixth season as a coach in Tennessee. Before that, he spent 17 seasons in Texas. Before that, he spent four years at Clemson.

“The fact is that orange is a good color,” said Barnes. “I like that. And the one I’m wearing now is my favorite.”

However, his wardrobe doesn’t offer the orange spectrum of sports coats and ties, from cantaloupe to carrot to coral. At Clemson he was given an orange jacket that he no longer wears. In Texas he got an orange one that is also idle. And he’s never had one in Tennessee – he’s shaken off the tradition of volunteer coaches wearing orange for rivalry games. (He also didn’t do like Bruce Pearl, the former Tennessee coach who is now in Auburn, painted his chest orange and sat in the student division for a women’s game.)

It’s not so deep inside that he’s tired of the color. It’s just, said Barnes, he doesn’t like attracting attention. He’d rather people keep their eyes on the yard. In that distinctive bracket where Tennessee may have only seen orange until the Final Four, it may be difficult to look the other way.

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