NCAA Football: Collecting Your Alma Mater

Vintage programs like this one from the 1939 USC vs. Notre Dame game display beautifully and pay tribute to one of college football’s longest standing rivalries.

Whether you’re a fan or alumni of THE Ohio State University, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the USC Trojans or you plan on engraving “Roll Tide” on your tombstone, few sports develop the long-lasting and deep-seeded rivalries that exist throughout college football. With the 2013 season having just kicked off, here is a look at how to start—or compliment an already established—college football memorabilia collection.

When building a collection of any sort, it is always best to center it around some sort of a theme. Focusing on a specific college football team already has that theme built in, providing you with the opportunity to start acquiring items right away. However, you will need to determine if your collection is going to be focused on items of true collectible value, fan shop-type commodities or a mixture of both.

Team Merchandise
There is no shortage of merchandise available emblazoned with your particular schools’ colors and logo. Deciding if you want to simply assemble a hodgepodge of knick-knacks and tchotchkes is certainly acceptable, and many fans have done just that. However, curtailing the amount of these common items and, instead, using them to accent a collection with size and dimension may be a more prudent pursuit. From kitchen and barware to home décor and office supplies and everything in between, official NCAA merchandise is available from a multitude of sources. Some of these items also make a nice starting point to serve as a backdrop to a collection. While not specifically collectible from a future value standpoint, they are affordable and can add a nice aesthetic touch to your display.

Paper collectibles are available in a wide variety of items and can contain several niches all their own. Game tickets, yearbooks, programs, pocket schedules and photographs are some of the primary examples that can be used to compliment or serve as a cornerstone of a collection. As would be expected, the older the item, the more intrinsic collectible value it holds. When it comes to vintage ephemera, the condition of the piece plays heavily into the items value.

Game tickets are a slightly under-appreciated collectibles category, however, in recent years, the popularity of these items has increased as collectors become aware of the scarcity of older examples. Tickets document a moment in time and recent advances in display technology make them a nice addition to any collection.

Yearbooks and programs, particularly those from championship-winning seasons or Bowl Game appearances, can be particularly nice items that carry a premium when of a vintage era and in good condition. Newer examples, with modern printing technology and glossy, full-color covers, make for particularly nice display items when housed in an acrylic-style top-loader. These rigid cases allow the program to be stood upright for display. 

Vintage tickets, like these from USC in 1946, showcase several of the team’s opponents that year.

Newer programs commemorating championships, like Alabama’s victory over Notre Dame last season, can often carry a premium.

Pocket schedule are an affordable collectible and an easily accessible item for a quick autograph.

Pocket schedules are probably the Rodney Dangerfield of paper collectibles: they get no respect, but that’s alright, the reason being is that it makes them very affordable. These free pieces of college football memorabilia are usually funded by local business advertising and available from a wide variety of area retail stores. Assembling a collection of these in consecutive years makes a nice little niche collection. They are also handy to have on you in the event you can score a quick autograph of a coach or player.

Photographs are often the foundation of any sports related collection. The same is true for NCAA Football. Easy to display and small on real estate, the visual appeal of photographs never goes out of style. Whether your interest lies with a particular player or a team of a certain year or specific game, there is an abundance of source material to choose from that is officially licensed and produced in the highest quality. Vintage photographs often carry a premium, but only if they are first generation from the original negatives. Digitally enhanced reproductions of vintage pictures may look nice but they will never have any collectible value, unless they are autographed.

Regardless of his recent off the field controversies, authentic, full sized helmets, autographed by last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, command hundreds of dollars.

Another cornerstone of any sports or entertainment related collection, autographs can be a collecting pursuit unto itself. The medium that is signed often plays significantly into the value of the item, as does the specific player or coach. Photographs make for a nice display and when signed with a bold signature, in a contrasting or team-related color, enhances the aesthetic and monetary value of the photographic image.

Any of the aforementioned ephemera items also make for nice material to acquire autographs. Simply keep in mind that you want players and coaches of a specific era to sign items of that same era. For example, it would make no sense to have current Alabama coach, Nick Saban, sign an item from the days when Paul Bryant was the Tide’s coach.

An autographed jersey can serve as an anchor and centerpiece of your collection. This Joe Montana jersey sold for more than $300 earlier this year.

Team banners make a nice backdrop for a collection display.

Premium Items
Whether it is an authentic jersey, official football, mini replica or a full-sized helmet, one of these must be at the core of your NCAA football collection. They not only serve as an anchor and centerpiece, they can also be the item that takes your collection from simply being that of any other fan to one worthy of insuring. Many of the above type items can also be found in game-used or worn condition. These are the pieces that eventually become auction worthy or serve as a cherished family heirloom. Imagine owning a vintage uniform from the college playing days of someone like Walter Payton or Peyton Manning. One can only imagine the tens of thousands of dollars such a piece would see realized at a live or online auction. Even items that are not game used can carry significant collectible value, particularly if they are autographed.

Regardless of the team you root for, there is a wealth of collectible opportunities available for every budget. Collect what you like, store and display them professionally and show off your school colors with pride. Enjoy the chase and eventual acquisition of pieces worthy of bragging rights and most importantly, have fun.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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