Sports

Vanderbilt football players could miss out on NIL money because their coach took away their jersey numbers

Vandy coach Clark Lea at his introductory press conference.

Vandy coach Clark Lea at his introductory press conference.
Screenshot: Vanderbilt Athletics

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The notion that there’s never a chance to make a second impression has been taken to a new level down in Nashville, as Vanderbilt’s football program is in the midst of the greatest icebreaker game of all time. With over 90 players on the roster, the strongest identifiers in sports — jersey numbers — are missing, as their new coach has taken them away.

“We are going to earn everything in this program,” first-year Commodore coach Clark Lea said during the spring. “Until we understand that we rent those numbers, we don’t own them, until we are ready to work within them, leave them better for the next person to wear them, that will come. I don’t want to put a timeline on it.

The gimmick that some thought would only last for a few days is ongoing, as the roster is officially online — sans numbers.

Vanderbilt has 10 fifth-year seniors and 23 freshmen on the team. I’ll let you guess how those two groups are probably doing when it comes to “team-building.”

“There’s probably a psychological element to it that I don’t know that I’m experiencing right now, but on the whole I’m able to pick up on who’s who and what’s what,” Lea said in March. “Certainly I’m probably judging the performance more than I’m judging the player. That’s probably a good thing.”

This isn’t the first time a football coach has done something stupid in the name of “establishing a culture,” and it won’t be the last. But I wonder if anyone has talked to Lea about how this is affecting others.

For instance, you can’t take pictures, get started on designing programs, or do too much with the athletic program’s social media team when you have a squad full of players fans can’t recognize due to them being numberless.

And in the era of NIL, Lea is also potentially messing with his players’ money. This week, nearly half of Michigan’s roster signed a deal with M Den — the school’s official retail store — to sell the Jordan Brand jerseys with their names on the back.

“We knew this was coming, and we at The M Den had come up with about roughly five points of what we wanted to do,” store president Scott Hirth told MLive.com.

“The first one that ended up being doable was this custom jersey program.”

The deal is set up so that each player will get the same amount of money per jersey sold, as their compensation will be quarterly — which means there is ample opportunity to cash out for a sport that’s played in the fall. It’s expected that other schools will follow Michigan’s lead and do something similar.

But, you know which school can’t do that right now?

Vanderbilt.

It’s hard to profit off their name, image, and likeness when fans don’t have something as simple as a jersey number to assign their name, image, and likeness to. That’s the opposite of a great first impression.

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