There is a logical answer why schools retire jerseys and not numbers. There simply aren't enough numbers to go around. There are a total of 37 usable numbers in the college basketball game due to the rules of the game. A number cannot exceed 5 on the uniform. Therefore the available numbers are 0, 00, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55.
That's it, no more. The NBA allows any number from 0 to 99, but not the NCAA.
As a result, many schools retire jerseys and not numbers. There are obviously exceptions where schools truly retire a number never to be used again. However, at schools with a longstanding tradition and winning ways, the number of numbers to be honored over the years would make it impossible to field a team if numbers were truly retired.
Case in point, Kentucky. The Wildcats have retired the jerseys of 36 players. As we mentioned above, there are only 37 usable numbers so if Kentucky had truly retired 36 numbers there would be only one number left to be used.
Kansas has retired 19 jersey numbers. Their criteria for retirement is as follows: "Originally, one must have been a four-time All-America or MVP of the NCAA Tournament but now All-Americans and Academic Al-Americans of the year are eligible
*Note: 9 jerseys have been retired since criteria changed in 2002-03 season"
North Carolina has retired both jerseys and numbers....30 of them to date. A number retirement is the higher honor. Criteria for the Tarheels: "For a number to be retired the player must have been a National Player of the year; for a jersey to be honored a player must have been an All-American, the MVP of a national championshop team or one of "top 10 players in the country"
Duke retires jerseys and numbers also...11 of them so far. They believe in retiring the jersey while the player is still active in their Senior year.
UCLA retires jerseys...only 7 to date. Criteria for a Bruin retirement is "Must be a three-time All-American, a National Player of the Year or a member of the Naismith Hall of Fame."
The list goes on and on....Oklahoma, Florida State, etc.
All that being said, do I expect a UCLA player to wear Kareem's #33 anytime soon? No. That is probably where George Thompson is coming from. There are retired jerseys and then there are RETIRED JERSEYS. I'm sure he felt slighted and MU should have been more aware of the situation. It seems a simple phone call to Cords or Crean would have worked this out very easily without taking the story to Garry Howard and Bob Wolfley (when was the last decade that Wolfley...a MU alum...had a front page story) was unnecessary and petty quite frankly. George could have grown some cashews, too....or at least some common sense. Does he really think someone at MU intentionally did this? I would hope not. An obvious mistake that a simple phone call from George to Cords could have solved the entire thing.
BTW, this just keeps getting better -- now the Associated Press has picked up on the numbers game.