Notre Dame first put their player’s surnames on their jerseys for the 1988 Cotton Bowl. 
While the Fighting Irish have occasionally broken out this jersey design since, the majority of their games are played without player names on the jersey unless the head coach decides otherwise.
I’m David, and I still remember the thrill I got when I got my first football jersey with my name on it in third grade. My career didn’t go far, but every year when I got my jersey and saw “Cannamore” across the back, I felt like a superstar.
Do Notre Dame athletes care that they rarely see their names on the back of their jerseys? Probably not, but the reasons why teams chose to include player names or not is an interesting decision. In this article, we’ll discuss why some college programs chose to include player names and why others don’t. There are many justifications for either decision including practicality, tradition, or the sort of symbolic reminder that college coaches love.
- Notre Dame first debuted names on their jerseys at the 1988 Cotton Bowl.
- Since they’ve occasionally added names to their jerseys for key match-ups and bowl games.
- Many colleges cannot afford the expense of adding jersey names while the more minimal look and symbolism of omitting a player’s name also plays a role.
Notre Dame’s “On Again, Off Again” Relationship With Jersey Names
Notre Dame resisted the practice of jersey names for many years after they had grown in popularity. The Fighting Irish debuted names on their jerseys for the first time in 1988, more than ten years after Arizona became the first college to do so in 1977. 
While school president John Jenkins had proposed the idea in hopes of garnering additional interest in the program, various coaches have waffled on the inclusion of player names. Since 1987, Notre Dame has allowed player names for some important bowl games, but has never made it a traditional practice like some programs. The decision has been left to the discretion of the head coach. 
Who Was the First Team to Put Names on the Back of Their Jerseys?
The practice of adding a player’s surname to the back of the jersey originated in Major League Baseball. Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck was known for his ingenuity and desire to experiment with innovative methods to improve the fan experience. As television broadcasts became more accessible, he believed that adding a player’s name to the jersey would make them easier for fans to identify. 
The White Sox debuted their new jerseys in 1960. They received some backlash from scorecard vendors and fans in attendance were unable to read the jersey names from such a distance.
Despite the tepid response, the practice quickly caught on in other sports. Some American Football Teams implemented the style the same year, with the NFL adopting the practice in 1970. 
Why Don’t All Teams Put Their Player’s Names on the back of their Jerseys?
While the practice of names on jerseys has become commonplace in all of the major professional sports, many college teams still do not include player names on their jerseys.
For many colleges, it’s not practical to add player names every year and purchase a new batch of jerseys. This is an extra cost many colleges are not willing to take on or can’t afford, particularly those outside of the major conferences or those programs that play Division II ball or lower. Many of these teams will re-use the same jerseys every year, so adding and removing names doesn’t make sense. 
This is for a variety of reasons ranging from the desire to maintain traditional jerseys to more practical arguments. Many teams with a long history of competition have staunchly maintained that players’ names do not appear on their jerseys. Even big-budget programs like Penn State have chosen to keep their jerseys name free despite having the financial ability to add them.
Many head coaches are resistant to the practice for symbolic purposes. Like most team sports, football requires the cooperation and cohesion of all the players on the field to execute and be successful. Most college coaches instill the need to sacrifice personal gains for the good of the team and victory. Keeping an individual’s name off the jersey reinforces this mentality and serves as a reminder to the team that no one is more important than the program as a whole.
There are many reasons why Notre Dame and other college programs choose to include or exclude player names from their jersey designs. Personally, I enjoy the sleeker, minimal look of a jersey without the names. Many longer surnames tend to cause the letters to bunch, removing the aesthetic of the jersey’s design and making it too crowded.
I’ve also been heavily influenced by years of coaches telling me that, “the name on the front means a lot more than the name on the back.” So I’m sure I have some bias.
How do you feel about jersey designs? Or does it not matter as long as your team wins? Let us know in the comments below!