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Long past time for college football teams to stop selling real player jerseys

Are you in the selling-things-based-on-real-college-athletes business? You should get out of it.

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Amateur athlete Johnny Manziel just happened to wear jersey No. 2.
Amateur athlete Johnny Manziel just happened to wear jersey No. 2.
Scott Halleran

Less than a week before the O'Bannon v. NCAA case goes to trial to determine the future use of college athletes' likenesses, three schools have decided to stop selling current players' jerseys, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell.

Worried about the ramifications of selling the numbers tied to student-athletes, several schools have decided not to sell football jerseys with star players names on it this upcoming season, sources tell ESPN.

Three schools -- Texas A&M, Arizona and Northwestern -- will offer more generic jerseys this season at retail.

Okay, maybe we should start over. The NCAA's member schools never technically sold any current players' jerseys, because they claimed the jersey numbers they sold — almost always aligning with those of star players — were just picked at random. That's the way the NCAA and its member schools have been able to get around paying players for the use of their likenesses, in video games and elsewhere.

This, of course, is ludicrous, as proven last year, when prominent NCAA critic Jay Bilas found that the NCAA's online store connected players' names with their jersey numbers. However, at the O'Bannon trial, the NCAA might still try to argue that the numbers on the jerseys had nothing to do with their sales.

The decision of the three schools to pull current players' jerseys from retail isn't so much one of legal or financial necessity. Jersey sales do very little for schools in the grand scheme of their enormous revenues, and while the extra money might help the players if they were allowed a portion of it, jersey sales are dwarfed in importance by television revenue in the athlete likeness fight.

The more telling part of this decision is how little faith schools appear to have in the NCAA's arguments. That's for good reason, since the "randomness" argument has spent the last year being torn to shreds, but it's not typical behavior of NCAA schools, which have rarely budged on the likeness debate. Symbolically, this shows that the schools are worried they might be wrong about the use of athletes' likeness, and they're worried enough about it to make some concessions.

However, schools are facing a lot bigger revenue cut than one just from jersey sales. Thursday's news is yet another reminder that schools are starting to understand that reality.