COLUMBUS — Ohio State is limiting the numbers available on football jerseys for sale this season in light of an ongoing court battle over whether players should receive money from sales.
Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed an antitrust lawsuit in 2009 challenging the right of colleges to use images of former student-athletes for commercial purposes. Though he won the case, the NCAA was granted a stay in late July as it appeals the judgment.
Ohio State has since asked that Nike only make jerseys and shirts with the numbers 15 and 1 this year, representing the year and the ranking of the national champions.
“Philosophically, with everything that’s going on with the O’Bannon case, it just made sense to look at the (jerseys),” Ohio State director of trademark and licensing Rick Van Brimmer told The (Toledo) Blade.
“What could we do? … When we have a desirable player, that number does tend to sell. We would love to be able to compensate them,” he said. “But under the rules as they are now, we can’t do that, so moving to the generic numbers seemed like the next best thing.”
Other schools also are limiting jersey numbers, including Arizona, Miami, Michigan, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Texas A&M and USC. Some of them are also using the numbers 15 and 1.
Ohio State said it’s purely a coincidence that running back Ezekiel Elliott wears the number 15, and that former quarterback Braxton Miller, who is switching to receiver this season, now will wear the number 1.
Lee Peterson, an executive vice president at WD Partners, a Dublin-based retail-consulting company, told The Columbus Dispatch that the move to limit on kersey numbers for sale could hurt retailers.
“If I’m one of those Buckeye stores, I’m freaking out. You’ve just cut my sales,” he said.
Bill Faust, chief strategy officer of Ologie, a Columbus marketing company with universities among its clients, called the numbering tactic a short-term solution that will keep universities out of legal challenges for a while.
“The real solution is to give more benefits to student-athletes, and any student who brings added value to the school through their efforts,” he said. “Progressive universities are going to have to find a way to treat students who give back equity to universities.”