If you want to buy a Northwestern football jersey this season, you better like No. 51.
According to a report from ESPN.com, that's the only number jersey Northwestern will sell this season, hoping to head off any headaches that could stem from selling jerseys with numbers of current players on them.
Selling jerseys with numbers of current players is commonplace across college football, but as the debate continues over if and how college athletes should see a part of the billions of dollars made off their on-field efforts each year, Northwestern and other schools are trying to eliminate any potential problems before they pop up. The ESPN report said Texas A&M and Arizona will also quit the practice of using current players' numbers.
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Schools aren't allowed to sell player merchandise, a violation of NCAA rules. This has been easily worked around, though, by simply excluding player names from jerseys and leaving the numbers. College basketball analyst Jay Bilas — a former Duke Blue Devils hoopster — shone a light on the thinly veiled practice last season, when he searched the NCAA's online store for Johnny Manziel's jersey and the No. 2 Texas A&M jersey popped up.
So at Northwestern this year, fans will only to be able to purchase jerseys with the number of a former player: current head coach Pat Fitzgerald, who wore No. 51 during his illustrious playing career in Evanston.
Fewer choices for consumers? Sure. Fewer headaches for the university? Most definitely. And with the Northwestern unionization saga still spinning on, that's exactly what the school is going for right now.