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Teams in Red Uniforms Often Win

Greekpadre's articles here about the evolution of uniform history of MWC teams got me to seeing red. I mean, not literally, but I remembered an article I read this past month in The Week and how the color affected sports and that started me to digging. I found a number of studies on the same subject. An article published in National Geographic News back in 2005 noted that a study claimed that when opponents of a game are equally matched, the team dressed in red is more likely to win.  That story cited researchers Russell Hill and Robert Barton of the University of Durham, in a study they did of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece.

The two researchers concluded that when the athletes were randomly given red or blue clothing, and that when they were equally matched with their opponents, the competitors wearing red were more likely to win their contests, and the conclusion could not be attributed to chance.  Hill and Barton also analyzed the Euro 2004 international soccer tournament, in which teams wore shirts of different colors, and the results of that investigation also suggest a similar advantage for red in team sports. 

The reason may have to do with "hard-wired perceptions" in the human brain that date back to more ancient and animalistic times, researchers say. 

The advantage of red uniforms in sports may be intuitive and might not stem from a conscious level.  According to a number of studies, there is evidence that the color of a team's uniform is a psychological advantage---like the home field advantage that one team might have over another.  In a home field advantage, the home team is said to have an edge over the visiting team as a result of playing in familiar facilities and in front of a home town fan base.

Other studies completed since Hill and Barton published their findings offer support to the theory that red uniforms might be a distinct advantage to a competitor.  In 2008, German sports psychologists also concluded that wearing red was an advantage in sports.   The result from their 5-year-old study confirms the HIll-Barton findings, and noted that red competitors won 55 percent of wrestling events at the Olympics.  But the German scientists took the issue of the red uniform advantage one step further: possible referee bias in scoring.  In a series of tests, the psychologists found that when the competitors were wearing red, they were awarded an average of 13% more points than the blue competitors by experienced referees.  The leader of that study, Norbert Hagemann, noted, "If one competitor is strong and the other weak, it won't change the outcome of the fight.  But the closer the levels, the easier it is for the colour to tip the scale."

More recently, a study at the University of Rochester have been looking into the effects the color red has on athletes.  They noted that red makes us stronger and faster, by temporarily increasing speed and strength reactions.  "Red enhances our physical reactions because it is seen as a danger cue," explains Andrew Elliot, professor of psychology at the UofR and who is a lead researcher in the field of color psychology. "Humans flush when they are angry or preparing for attack," he explains. "People are acutely aware of such reddening in others and its implications." . 

Even Tiger Woods is aware of the advantage of wearing red and has gotten into the act of wearing red on his last day at a major. The finding of red's advantage might eventually lead to more regulations that govern sporting attire.  Barton mentioned that in the 2005 study.  In the Olympic matches he surveyed he noted that some winners might have won their medals with with an unintended advantage.  According to the Hill-Barton study, athletes might have a subconscious reaction to red that puts them at a disadvantage, and they offer this advice: "The color of sportswear needs to be taken into account to ensure a level playing field in sport."

The German study of 2008 also suggested a need to change the rules to support referees by providing electronic decision-making aids in those sports in which a color bias could be a problem.

Many of us have a resistance to changing rules and forsaking tradition over what we deem is pettiness. Especially here in the Mountain West Conference where the teams that have red uniforms (University of New Mexico, UNLV, and Fresno State) have been struggling in recent years and not been able to capitalize on the "red advantage" to the degree that teams in other conferences have apparently  been able to. San Diego State's unform has red, but their unforms are predominately black. You might say the idea is as silly as the arguement that Boise State's blue turf somehow gives the Broncos a unique advantage over their opponents. If the scientific community is to be believed, its not the color blue that gives athletic teams an edge, but red.

But brushing aside all the points mentioned above, there is one alarming conclusion in the Rochester study that might give even the most hardline old-school MWC fans pause.  They asked 288 female and 25 males undergraduates to look at photos of a man in which his shirt was digitally colored either red or another color.  The women said the red shirt made the man appear more powerful, attractive and sexually desirable.

That reason alone is enough for rest of us from non-red teams to seriously consider the outlawing of all red uniforms.