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Solving the NCAA’s Jersey Issue

The NCAA has a problem. Not a big problem, although there are a few of those right now. This is just a little problem. But it is the type of highly visible yet unimportant issue where the NCAA takes unnecessary criticism and which distracts time and attention from more important debates. The problem this time is basketball jerseys.

Basketball jerseys are a three-pronged problem. First is the rise of the illegible number. According to the NCAA’s Basketball Playing Rules, player numbers must be of a color which contrasts the “neutral zone”, basically the square in the center of the front and back of the jersey. The number can have a border of up to 1/2″, but the base color of the number must contrast the base color of the jersey. North Carolina State’s numbers which they wore against North Carolina did not meet this requirement. Red numbers with a white border on a red background do not meet the requirement. The game should have started with two technical free throws for the Tar Heels.

The other two problems involve the names on the back of the jersey. Iowa was not allowed to put the name of a former player who passed away on the jersey of every player. Meanwhile, Akron will have the school’s Twitter handle, @ZipsMBB, on the back of its jerseys.

Update: Akron will only have the Twitter handle on the back of its warmups. after being denied permission to put them on the jersey by the NCAA. Given that I agree with the breakdown that follows, now the NCAA has the opposite problem: the same decision that should be different because one complies with the rule and one does not. So the point below about needing a better rule still stands.(Hat tip to @HustleBelt.)

Late Night Hoops has a good breakdown of why the former is not allowed under the rules but the latter is:

Rule 3 / PLAYERS, SUBSTITUTES AND PLAYER EQUIPMENT, Section 5 / UNIFORMS, Article 5.a.1 states:
“Only the following are permitted in the front and back neutral zones:

a. A player or institutional name/mascot.

  1. No more than two identifying names or abbreviations may be placed on the front or back of the game jersey. The name(s) shall:a. Identify the school, the school nickname or mascot, or the player’s name.

    b. Be placed horizontally.

    c. Be placed no closer than 1 inch from the uniform number”

We believe the Twitter handle is allowed under 5.a.1.a. above and therefore no waiver would be required to place it on the players’ jerseys. That is, (1) we believe that @ZipsMBB is an identifying abbreviation that identifies the school and (2) the Akron jersey “situation” is not analogous to Iowa’s recent request.

If the NCAA is in a situation where Twitter handles are allowed but memorial names are not, that is not a good place to be, regardless if it is consistent with the current rules. The question is how to allow schools flexibility without ending up with “Ochocinco” or “He Hate Me” on the back of a jersey.

A good option would be to allow teams to ignore any limit on the nameplate for one game per year. That allows teams to have a memorial jersey, or to do a “Social Media Night” with Twitter handles, or something like the airplane names on the back of Air Force football uniforms this season. To get out of it completely, the NCAA would need to potentially let “Swiperboy” go once per year. Rules like the need for the neutral zone of the jersey to be one solid color, the numbers to contrast, every player to have a different number, and the advertising/manufacturer logo limitations would not be waived.

That would give teams the flexibility to honor fallen teammates, promote the university in an interesting way, or let the players show some personality, while still making sure that most games, especially NCAA tournament games, are played with standard nameplates. If schools had this once-per-year free-for-all, the name restrictions could be tightened up even further, for instance allowing only the player’s last name and necessary initials to distinguish him or her from other players on the back.

Are you ready for the NEXT STEP!