UF allows sale of players' jerseys, despite prior concerns


Tina McGuire of Atlanta passes a mannequin with the jersey of Florida basketball player Joakim Noah at GatorMania on Tuesday. McGuire went to GatorMania while passing through Gainesville looking for a Chris Leak jersey.

TRACY WILCOX/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 2:17 a.m.

Citing concerns about profiting off the successes of individual athletes, the University of Florida has been relatively reserved in the past decade about selling jerseys bearing the numbers of currently eligible star players.

Facts

Gator numbers for sale

In the wake of the University of Florida's basketball and football championships, UF has authorized the sale of jerseys with numbers that correspond with some of the Gators' star players. The following basketball numbers are already hitting stores:

  • No. 2 - Corey Brewer
  • No. 11 - Taurean Green
  • No. 12 - Lee Humphrey
  • No. 13 - Joakim Noah
  • No. 42 - Al Horford

The royalty split
With national championships in basketball and football, the University of Florida stands to bring in unprecedented revenues. Here's how royalties break down:
  • For items that promote the BCS National Championship, UF receives royalties of 12 percent and the BCS receives 3 percent.
  • For items that promote the NCAA championship, UF receives royalties of 12 percent and the NCAA receives 3 percent.
  • For items that promote both the BCS National Championship and the NCAA championship, UF receives royalties of 12 percent, and the BCS and NCAA each receive 3 percent.

But with simultaneous championships in basketball and football, that's about to change.

UF has licensed Nike to produce five new basketball jerseys that bear the numbers of standout players on the Gators' championship team. Likewise, UF plans to authorize the manufacturing of several new football jerseys that will feature high-profile players' numbers.

The marketing of individual players' numbers isn't totally new to UF, and the practice is commonplace at other schools with major sports programs. But apart from two occasions in the past 10 years when quarterbacks' numbers were used, UF has largely limited its football jersey numbers to the generic "No. 1." The number "96" was also used to honor the year of the previous football championship.

Two quarterbacks - Danny Wuerffel and Rex Grossman - have seen their numbers marketed in stores in the past decade, but the printing of jerseys with clear ties to star basketball players appears to be without precedent at UF, according to a longtime athletics official.

Stricter limits on the use of players' numbers began about 10 years ago at the behest of Jeremy Foley, UF's athletic director.

"Jeremy made the decision to limit the jersey to No. 1 so as not to capitalize off currently eligible players," said Debbie Gay, licensing manager for UF's licensing department.

Foley could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

In rare circumstances, UF has made exceptions by marketing a few players' numbers in the past decade. After Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy in 1996, his No. 7 went up for sale. Similarly in 2001, after Grossman came in a close second in the Heisman race, UF also allowed for the printing of his jersey number.

UF coach Urban Meyer will help to decide which numbers should be licensed for football jerseys this year, Gay said.

As with Wuerffel and Grossman, the decision to issue more Gator stars' numbers is meant to "honor" their successes and to help fund everything from scholarships to upgraded facilities, according to Mike Spiegler, UF's associate athletic director.

"It was not per se to make a great deal of money," Spiegler said. "That's not really why."

National championships, however, unquestionably bring in dollars.

UF made $3.2 million in royalties from athletic merchandise last year, and $500,000 came directly from items related to the NCAA basketball championship. The University of Texas made $8 million after its national championship in football last year, which was a doubling of the prior year's revenues.

Some college players have voiced concern in years past that selling jerseys bearing their numbers constitutes explicit profiteering on the backs of players who don't share in the revenue. Others, however, have no problem with it and relish the fan support.

Just before the BCS National Championship this month, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith told The Associated Press that he wasn't perturbed in the least that OSU profited by selling his No. 10 jersey.

"That doesn't bother me at all," said Smith, this season's Heisman Trophy winner.

While the NCAA prohibits the sale of jerseys bearing particular players' names, the use of a number that may correspond with a star athlete is permissible under NCAA rules.

"Over the years, many student-athletes have worn a particular number," NCAA spokeswoman Crissy Schluep wrote in an e-mail. "Thus, the number is not unique to the individual student-athlete who currently wears said number."

By only selling No. 1 jerseys this season, UF still gave fans access to a hotly coveted number.

The number not only appears symbolic of the Gators' championship season, it's also the number worn by Reggie Nelson, UF's ferocious free safety and a fan favorite.

UF's in-state football rival, Florida State University, has made a regular practice of contracting with Nike to manufacture a few select jerseys with carefully chosen numbers each year.

Sherri Dye, FSU's trademark licensing director, says the university tries to limit the numbers to upperclassmen because the university wants "to give them time to become a star." A notable exception, however, was Seminole quarterback Drew Weatherford, who's No. 11 hit shelves when he was still a redshirt freshman.

While there may be some sensitivity to profiting off college athletes, Dye said it just makes good business sense to give fans what they want.

"I can see that (concern), but it's a fan base-driven business," she said, "and it would be foolish for us to think they aren't following certain players within that specific team."

Jack Stripling can be reached at 374-5064 or Jack.Stripling@gvillesun.com

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