When Tim Couch was Kentucky's quarterback hero, he'd walk into Commonwealth Stadium and see many fans wearing No. 2 jerseys. The deuce was indeed loose here, there and seemingly everywhere in the Big Blue Nation.
"Kind of cool," Couch recalled last week. "Never did it cross my mind that I'd want to be paid for it."
That very thing crosses many minds in college athletics these days. Should college athletes receive compensation when their likeness or name or number is used to sell jerseys or video games or other memorabilia? Believing athletes should be paid, former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon filed a lawsuit. The case is pending in federal appeals court.
Jamal Mashburn, arguably the most impactful UK basketball player of the past 30 years, enjoyed a popularity that approached Couch-like dimensions. He thought it was "pretty cool" to see fans wear his No. 24.
"Then you look behind the curtain and you see there's a business behind it," he said last week. "And you're not receiving anything from it."
Now a successful businessman, Mashburn said he probably would not want some sort of retroactive cut of whatever revenue UK made from various "Monster Mash" promotions circa the early 1990s. But, he added, a case could be made for such compensation going to a charity picked by the athlete.
With the O'Bannon case looming over college athletics, The New York Times recently published a story about some schools limiting the numbers that appear on retail jerseys to generic digits: typically No. 1 ("We're No. 1") or No. 15 (symbolizing the year 2015). Ohio State, Nebraska, Miami and Mississippi State have gone this route.
Scott Wetherbee, the senior associate athletic director for external affairs at Mississippi State, explained his school's decision to the Times. "We started to talk about whether you're taking advantage of a student-athlete, their likeness, their number," he told the newspaper. "I think most people understand the landscape has changed a little bit, and we need to be smart."
Neither Wetherbee nor State Athletic Director Scott Stricklin could be reached despite repeated interview requests. (The Times did note that a growing number of schools have quietly — repeat, quietly — decided to stop selling jerseys with popular players' numbers.)
David Ridpath, a professor of sports administration at Ohio University, saw calculation in schools' decision to limit the numbers that appear on jerseys for sale.
"This is a reaction to the O'Bannon case," he wrote in an email. "Clearly royalties are likely coming for the athletes if schools continue to sell their numbers. Also it does not look good to be doing this when you are challenging O'Bannon (in court). Plays right into their hands."
Ridpath, a past president of the reform-minded Drake Group, called the move to limit jersey numbers "a good preemptive move in some ways, but also too little too late."
As for UK athletics, Jason Schlafer, executive associate athletic director for external affairs, said that sales of jerseys were an "insignificantly small piece of the licensing business." In the 2014-15 school year, jersey sales accounted for barely one half of one percent (0.53 percent) of revenue generated by the sale of licensed products. UK got $33,138, he said. That's tip money by big-time college athletics standards.
Yet, Ridpath said, "Small percentages still mean revenue. I am sure a Tim Couch jersey or any (Kentucky) basketball player generates enough to share revenue."
UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart suggested that players like Couch and Mashburn are exceptional in terms of generating revenue.
"I think there are very few iconic players anymore ... ," Barnhart said. "Our coaches have sort of been our icons, if you will."
A recent check suggested that several sporting goods stores in Lexington stocked only football jerseys with the No. 1. None of the stores offered basketball jerseys in early August. One store said it had No. 15 (Willie Cauley-Stein?) and No. 5 (Andrew Harrison?) jerseys last winter.
Schlafer said that any numbers can be ordered with UK football and basketball jerseys. But those numbers should not be associated with any particular player, he said. For instance, the No. 3 could mean three-pointer or Rex Chapman or Jarrod Polson or Aaron Harrison, Schlafer said.
In 2005, the NCAA prohibited schools from marketing the names, images or likenesses (i.e. bobble-head dolls) of athletes.
"Even if it doesn't have my name on the back, it's still '24,'" Mashburn said. "It implies it's your jersey."
Perhaps the most iconic college football player of recent vintage was Johnny Manziel. Jason Cook, Texas A&M's senior associate athletic director, said No. 2 Manziel jerseys generated less than $60,000 in revenue during his two college seasons.
What Cook called A&M's "tradition of a 12th Man" made 12 the most popular number for Aggies retail jerseys. He said A&M only offers football jerseys with the No. 12.
When asked if the pending O'Bannon case impacted the decision to only offer No. 12 jerseys, Cook eluded the on-coming rush by saying, "We're constantly re-evaluating the type of products we have in the marketplace."
However the O'Bannon case is decided, Couch said he did not look back at his college career with regret. No doubt, it helped being the No. 1 overall pick of an NFL Draft.
"I kind of buy into the fact that we are amateur athletes," he said. "The university makes money off you. But, in return, you get a free education. ...
"For me, it ended up working out where I got to go to the next level and get a cut of those jersey sales and get paid for my likeness and all that."
You could say the late Jim Ingle, who passed away at age 83 on Friday, personified an old-school approach to public address announcing. As announcer for UK home games from 1968 to 1988, he brought a professional detachment to the job.
"He set the standard," said Patrick Whitmer, the public address announcer for UK home games since the 2007-08 season. "In the late '60s, that was the style."
Whitmer recalled hearing about P.A. announcers in the 1960s and 1970s receiving advisories that stressed the need to be impartial. In that regard, Ingle was a P.A. announcer to emulate, Whitmer said.
Of course, times have changed. In announcing the starting lineups these days, Whitmer must make himself understood amidst a sensory overload of indoor fireworks, darkened Rupp Arena lights and a video call-to-arms.
Basketball games have become a "true entertainment destination," Whitmer said. You risk ridicule to say the games are, you know, athletic competition.
Whitmer said he tries to split the difference between Ingle's straight-as-string approach and the new-age follow-me verbal assault.
Ingle prized accuracy over show biz, Whitmer said. This led Ingle to routinely ask Whitmer before games, "How many difficult ones do we have tonight?" When Whitmer would note the names fraught with the possibility of mispronunciation, Ingle would laugh knowingly.
Ingle's adherence to impartiality was a professional mask. He had attended UK, then worked for UK. He was a UK fan.
In the 1960s and 1970s, he'd occasionally accompany Joe B. Hall, then an assistant coach for Adolph Rupp, on recruiting trips to towns in Kentucky.
Hall recalled one trip he took with Ingle to see Ronnie Lyons play. The two never made the game. Their car collided with another along the way. At the accident scene, Hall found the strength to lift a Volkswagen beetle high enough so a pinned child could escape.
"He had a great love for Kentucky," said Hall, who was a groomsman at Ingle's wedding, "and for sports."
As for Ingle's funeral arrangements, visitation will be Monday from 5 to 8 p.m. at Milward's Southland. A memorial service will be Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Southern Hills United Methodist Church.
Married to football
Louisville's Sheldon Rankins is considered one of the best defensive linemen in college football. Until high school, he played basketball as well as football.
Which prompts a question: How does Rankins compare the fun of playing football with the fun of playing basketball? "My love for the two is different," he said. "Football is more, as I say, a wife to me. It has its good and its bad.
"Basketball was always just real relaxing in the sense I just get away and relax when I play basketball."
That's not to say Rankins finds football less enjoyable to play.
"Football has its good days and its bad days," he said. "But I love the game."
Honor for Odie
Former UK guard Adrian "Odie" Smith will be honored Saturday in his Graves County hometown of Farmington. The ceremony will be at 10 a.m. at the Farmington Elementary School.
Even casual UK fans (if such people exist) are familiar with the arc of Smith's basketball career: Player on Kentucky's 1958 national championship team, which Coach Adolph Rupp called the Fiddlin' Five. His basketball career continued as a member of the U.S. gold medal team in 1960; the high point of an NBA career coming in 1966 when he was named Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game.
The hometown boy-makes-good ceremony will include the unveiling of a permanent recognition marker on the front lawn of Farmington Elementary School.
Dunking, then doughnuts
Jamal Mashburn — hard to believe he was a UK All-American more than 20 years ago — planned to be in Central Kentucky the next few days.
Monday will be especially busy. He's playing host to a charity golf event that benefits his Mashburn Family Foundation.
He's also planning to be at the grand opening of a Dunkin' Donuts in the Kennedy Bookstore. His company, Fast Break Doughnuts, operates four Dunkin' Donuts shops in Central Kentucky — one in Somerset and three in Lexington.
This raises a question: Would his coach at UK, Rick Pitino, have welcomed the idea of the star player chowing down on doughnuts?
"No, he definitely wouldn't be encouraging me to be eating doughnuts," Mashburn said with a laugh. "But you know what, since I've retired, I've earned the right."
To Willie Cauley-Stein. He turns 22 on Tuesday. ... To Archie Goodwin. He turns 21 on Monday. ... To James Young. He turns 20 Sunday (today) . ... To DeMarcus Cousins. He turned 25 on Thursday. ... To Ryan Hogan. He turned 37 on Saturday. ... To Kenny "Sky" Walker. He turns 51 on Tuesday. ... To Boyd Grant. He turns 82 Sunday (today) . ... To Lon Kruger. He turns 63 on Wednesday. ... To Terry Mills. He turned 67 on Saturday.