Jersey numbers have been standardized in every college football game, but are players allowed to choose any number that they want?
Can College Football Players Wear Any Number?
College football players are allowed to choose their jersey numbers with the exception of the offensive line which is require to line up at least five players wearing jerseys numbered 50 through 79. This being said, the NCAA does recommends offensive players select specific numbers based on their position. However, defensive players are free to choose any number they want between 0 and 99.
After extensively researching NCAA regulations, I have gathered enough information to determine if college football players are allowed to wear any number they want on their (expensive) football uniforms.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at the guidelines for choosing a jersey number based on the NCAA’s rules.
Choosing a jersey number is a big decision for a lot of players. Whether they are superstitious or want to play football with their favorite number on their jersey, this can be a huge part of a player’s identity.
The regulations behind choosing jersey numbers have changed a lot over the years. In the past, jersey numbers were usually allocated to specific players based on their role in the game, and they had very little say over the number they got.
However, the NCAA’s regulations have become much looser and less restrictive these days. This has resulted in players having more freedom to choose a number that they want.
The NCAA’s current rules dictate that college football players are allowed to choose numbers, but they highly recommend that numbers be chosen based on the player’s position.
This has traditionally been the case with the sport, and the NCAA still suggests that players stick to an organized and logical system.
The NCAA particularly stresses that offensive players choose specific numbers for their position. This does not mean that players must select a number allocated to their position.
It just implies that the NCAA recommends this for organizational reasons to help fans, referees, and coaches identify players.
In addition, a number system based on player positions also makes it easier for players to identify one another. These are the recommended numbers for offensive college football players:
- Quarterbacks, Halfbacks, & Fullbacks – 1 to 49
- Centers – 50 to 59
- Guards – 60 to 69
- Tackles – 70 to 79
- Tight Ends & Wide Receivers – 80 to 99
Defensive players have a lot more freedom to choose the jersey numbers they prefer.
The NCAA does not actually recommend numbers based on the position of defensive players, and they can choose any number between 0 and 99.
When Were Jersey Numbers Introduced to College Football?
The history of jersey numbers in the sport of football is a bit opaque. This is because some teams began practicing this very early on as a strategic tactic and a method to stay organized during games.
The first time that jersey numbers were ever used in college football dates back to 1908. On December 5th, 1908, the University of Pittsburgh was the original trendsetter of jersey numbers in college football.
Prior to this, jersey numbers were never used by college football or any other league for that matter.
This concept was so fresh that virtually every sport in the world was not using jersey numbers yet.
Despite the effectiveness and practicality that jersey numbers brought to the sport, the idea was still not officially standardized until nearly 70 years after the University of Pittsburgh pioneered it.
In 1973, the NFL finally introduced a formal regulation that mandated jersey numbers on all teams.
Around the same time, the NCAA followed suit and introduced rules that also required jersey numbers for college football.
What Are ‘Retired’ College Football Jersey Numbers?
Although most players are allowed to choose their numbers in college football, some numbers are off-limits. These are often referred to as ‘retired’ jersey numbers.
Retired jersey numbers are banned for the foreseeable future after a star player has massive success. The idea is to not let any incoming players steal the thunder and success of a player who built a reputation for a certain number.
Legendary athletes who worked hard to build their careers leave an undeniable idea behind a jersey number, and it doesn’t feel fair to let a newbie player come in and take credit for something they did not achieve.
For this reason, some numbers are temporarily banned from being used. The guidelines for this are not always set in stone, but there is a general consensus within the industry that some jersey numbers need to be unused.
Technically, yes. The roster for college football teams is extensive. There are a lot of players on a single college football team, and some overlap with number selection is to be expected.
Most college teams will have at least a few instances of jersey numbers being repeated. The NCAA realizes that this is inevitable, and for this reason, they allow duplicate numbers to exist on a team.
With that said, specific rules need to be considered and adhered to if a college football team has repeating numbers. Most importantly, you cannot have two players with the same jersey number on the field simultaneously.
The NCAA dictates that only one jersey number can be on the field for a specific team. Bringing a second player with the same jersey number will result in a violation of these rules.
At the end of the day, this benefits everyone involved in the sport, including the organizers, as well as the fans.
Seeing the same jersey number on one team can create a lot of confusion. Players may mistake one person for the other, and coaches may make improper decisions when strategizing plays.
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- College football players are allowed to choose their jersey numbers.
- The NCAA recommends offensive players select specific numbers based on their position, but this is a recommendation and not a regulation.
- Defensive players are given full freedom to choose any number they want between 0 and 99.
**Special thank you to reader Rob Powers who helped us find an ambiguity in the rule book. While section 4, Article 1 says the NCAA “strongly recommends” players wear certain numbers, it does not require it. However, later the NCAA does require the offensive live to use specific number: Rule 4, Article 4, Section A, Subsection 3 of the NCAA Football Rulebook (2022): “At least five linemen must wear jerseys numbered 50 through 79
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