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This year, Penn State took the unprecedented move of adding player names to the backs of their football jerseys.
Fans visiting sports goods stores, however, won’t notice that change on the racks of jerseys for sale. That’s because the NCAA prohibits any item with player names so they don’t have to pay players for use of their names and likenesses.
Because the NCAA doesn’t allow names on jerseys sold at retail, the only thing different from one jersey to the next at each school is the number. Most schools will sell only a handful of different jersey numbers. These chosen numbers rotate from one year to the next and are clearly related to the star players at the time.
This year’s Penn State jerseys being sold are Gerald Hodges (No. 6), Matt McGloin (No. 11), Michael Mauti (No. 42) and Jordan Hill (No. 47). If you go to stores or websites, you’ll see No. 25 for sale, because those had been printed before running back Silas Redd transferred to University of Southern California. In his place, they added Jordan Hill.
When the jerseys are being sold, they can’t be advertised as a “Matt McGloin” jersey even if his name isn’t on the item itself. Instead, they’re billed as just a Penn State No. 11 jersey. To counter this, I’ve seen some physical stores post a team roster next to their jersey racks.
Outside of Penn State, there are some interesting choices from schools. Texas Christian University offers only one number, its QB, Casey Pachall. Auburn prints nine different numbers. Texas A&M reserves No. 12 for its “Twelfth Man” — the nickname for its fan base. Northwestern prints No. 51, the number its coach Pat Fitzgerald wore at the school in his playing days.
Most schools print No. 1, which has self-promotional implications as well as being a jersey number often given to star players
The University of Florida might have the most interesting jersey numbers. It prints only numbers 1, 15 and 96. The No. 1 is its generic number, No. 15 is for Tim Tebow and No. 96 is for the year of Florida’s National Championship. The school’s policy has been that it will consider printing player numbers only if the player wins the Heisman or has some other extraordinary achievement.
So who pockets the jersey money instead of the players?
The school gets a royalty of just 10 percent of the gross profit, which comes out to only a handful of dollars. No wonder schools don’t want to share with the players.
It’s unfortunate, though, because fans are buying these jerseys because of the players. The top five jersey (numbers) sold last year were Tyrann Matheiu, Trent Richardson, Tim Tebow’s No. 15, Denard Robinson and LaMichael James, all of them among the biggest stars in college football.
It’s clear fans aren’t picking their numbers randomly. The NCAA just wants everyone to pretend they’re not using any specific players.
Bill Sayer is a financial analyst in the insurance industry and holds a degree in economics. A native of Upstate New York, Bill enjoys watching college football, the NFL, NHL and Premier League soccer from his home in Palmyra. Have a suggestion, link or question?