Uniform rules exist for a number of legitimate reasons, from mundane (knowing who is on which team, for example) to essential ideals, such as protecting the player and others in the game from harm.
Occasionally, uniform rules are misused as a strategy tool. It happened Thursday in State College, where a desperate coaching staff whose team was trailing three quarters of the way through a championship game apparently was willing to use any available advantage to try to get its team in the game.
I won't blame a forced, sideline clothing change for Mifflin County's loss to the Little Lions, ending the Huskies' field hockey season. But it's easy to blame an official for allowing the circumstances to occur in the way they did - she, apparently, forgot who was in charge of the game.
A couple years ago, then-sports reporter Brian Cox, now The Sentinel's city editor, and I were covering a Mount Union baseball playoff game. The opposing pitcher's jersey kept pulling out of his uniform pants, a violation of the rules. And the Mount Union crowd - guess whose team was behind in the game? - roared each time.
The first few times, the umpire stopped play and made the player correct his deficiency. But after a few, it was obvious he was trying, and it wasn't an issue worth delaying the game over - and certainly was no cause to, say, take him out of the game and tape his shirt around the tail.
The umpires made a good choice - let the game be decided on the field, not in the dressing room.
Another time, at a basketball game I was covering, a player from the favored team got blood on her jersey during warmups. The official spotted it, told the coach, and she was sent to the locker room to put on another one - of course, it had another number. And no one told the scorekeeper.
So, when she was introduced to the court with a number different than the one in the book, the opposing coach demanded a technical foul - again, pretty much a head game move.
The official apologized to the affected team, admitting it was his fault. And while he allowed the technical - I believe he could have told the other coach to sit down and shut up - he did warn the complaining team that they better watch their p's and q's, lest they be hit equally hard for toying with the rules of the game.
And so we come back to State College, where the transgression - a different color of compression shorts than the kilt - was minor. And apparently, it wasn't a problem for the first 45 minutes of the game.
The official had several options, not the least of which would have been to tell the complainant that the statute of limitations had expired on that one.
Other players and other teams we cover have inconsistent colors underneath their uniforms - heck, one former Mifflin County player used to wear shorts that had more colors than a full Easter basket, and not once was it a problem for State College (or any other team).
Enforcing a valid rule cannot be considered a bad call, but in this case, the way it was enforced certainly showed a willingness by the official to cede control of the game to someone else.
The complaint was made during a time out, but the official chose not to bring it to the attention of Mifflin County coach Tish Maclay until the players were back on the field (the official's discussion with Maclay indicates she was aware of the discrepancy during the time out).
Then, when rolling up the shorts wasn't enough to satisfy the official, she forced Maclay to take a starter off the field and then put the game back in motion, rather than holding the whistle until the totally unnecessary change could be accomplished.
Officiating is full of judgment calls, and I tend to support the zebras even when I think they're having an off day. But this was an act of poor judgment, and the game deserves better.
It would have been interesting to see how many players from both teams would have been tossed if the official had performed a belly button inspection.
High school athletes are prohibited from wearing jewelry, other than religious and medical insignias - it's a safety issue - and those must be taped to the body. But I've been to more than a few games where female athletes have had protruding navel jewelry under their uniforms.
Again, a story from the past: I was covering a softball game where an infield player leapt into the air to catch a low fly, and her jersey pulled up to reveal enough metal and feathers to stock the fishing lure aisle at Walmart.
Another case where the official did the right thing - he sent her back to the dugout to remove it, without penalty, then warned both teams that they could take time to do the same at that moment and avoid penalty later. At least half a dozen girls on both sides suddenly were removing illegal jewelry, but the game went on without a hitch.
Maybe umpires in general have better sense than the officials in other sports.
To end on a positive note, here's one uniform rule I do like - and wish applied to every sport; soccer's requirement that uniform numbers be clear and in contrast to the jersey color. It's always nice to know who's on the field.
Anyone who remembers the football jerseys Mifflin County wore in its inaugural year should appreciate that one.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.