In college football, or any sport, numbers are displayed on the front, back, or both of a player’s jersey to indicate a position and/or player identity. What we know from college football, there are a lot of players and a lot of numbers. One may think, can two players wear the same number while on the field?
Two college football players cannot wear the same number while on the field. The numbers in college football represent positions. Each position contains a series of numbers associated with it. If a position requires more than one player, other numbers are provided for that position.
Let’s dive deeper into this and learn why players on the same team cannot wear the same number and when they can.
Numbers Represents Positions
When observing a college football team, one will quickly notice that there are numbers in either one- or two-digit format and assume that these numbers help identify a player. This is true; however, the numbers also serve another purpose: position.
In college football, a series of numbers will revolve around a particular position and whatever position the college football player is in, those associated numbers will be given to them.
For example, quarterbacks will be given a number between 1-19, a running back can use any numbers between 10-49, and a tight end will be given 40-49 or 80-89. Another way of seeing it for football veterans: backs (1-49), snappers (50-59), guards (60-69), tackles (70-79), and ends (80-89).
As you can see, some of the numbers will overlap with other positions, but this is specifically planned to compensate for the number of players per college football team, which we will address later.
What we need to know is that the numbers represent a position.
Why Can’t Two Players Have the Same Number on the Field
NCAA Numbering Ruleset and Player Count
First, according to the NCAA’s ruleset, there can be no triple digit numbers (102, 112, 157, etc.) and no zeros (0 or 00), resulting in a selection of numbers between 1-99.
Since college football is slightly different from the National Football League (NFL), we shouldn’t be surprised to see the rulesets tailored to whatever level of football is being played.
Relating to the triple-digit number restriction, a college football team will usually contain about 105 players, on average, while the max is set at 125 active players.
This high active player count could be why some would think a triple-digit number should be involved and perhaps appropriate.
Despite this, assuming we know our basic mathematics and the NCAA’s ruleset for numbering, some of the players will be required to wear a duplicated number relative to their position.
For example, if numbers 1-99 are the only permitted numbers and a team has 114 players, 15 of the 114 players will have to wear 15 of the 99 numbers, resulting in 15 duplicated numbers.
When this happens, these 15 players cannot take the field with the other 15 players who they duplicated in number at the same time.
This is easier to control in the NFL as they are restricted to about 53 players per team, easily avoiding such duplication. The only issue I can see with this for the NFL, and with college football too, is that the team recruits too many players for a single position, resulting in an extreme duplication of numbers for a single position.
Helping to Avoid Confusion
And second, the reason why two players with the same number per team cannot be on the same playing field is that it may stir up confusion on who is who for the audience, broadcasters, and referees.
Considering that the uniforms are, well, uniform, it is difficult to know which player should be credited or noted since the players all wear the same gear and color.
The numbers are not only a way to identify a position but act as a visual indicator of who number “X” is.
This doesn’t cause an issue with two opposing players since their team’s uniform should be different in color, at least. Easily being identifiable regardless of numbers.
Overall, when dealing with the field, no two players with similar numbers may take the field at once.
When Can Two Players Wear the Same Number
Reserve and Training Players
First, with what we said about why can’t two players with the same number take the field, we obviously do not mean that no two players will not have the same number.
As we have said in the previous segment, duplication will be inevitable, especially for higher division teams (i.e., division 1) that has larger team size.
When duplication does happen, this is usually due to the player being a reserve player, for example. A reserve player is a player available as a substitute for any of the starting lineup players.
Other players may not be reserve players and will probably never see the playing field as they may be purposed for training camps for the starting lineups. This also can relate to how many players can suit up for a game with college football allowing up to 82 players to suit up, leaving behind the rest. Again, to avoid unnecessary duplication of numbers, careful planning should be made to not accidentally suit up players with the same numbers. If it happens, they should be reserve players only.
Opposing Teams Unaffected
Second, any numbers that an opposing team wears on the playing field will be permitted and not be affected by the NCAA ruleset restrictions.
For example, if two players on both sides wear the same number but in different positions, it is ok. If they are wearing the same number and position, it won’t matter as well.
In addition, the initial idea of any duplicated numbers in college football assumes that both layers are on opposite sides of the ball (offense vs. defense).
Special Teams Exception
Lastly, it could be possible to have a third player wearing the same number as two others if they are part of the special team’s position.
In the end, these should be the only times players of the same, or opposing, teams may wear the same number outside the field.