CARBONDALE - Mike McElroy was in search of a legacy off the field.
So, in mid-January, he came to Southern Illinois University football coach Dale Lennon with a big idea.
The fifth-year senior safety may have it come Nov. 12, when the Salukis will participate in what they believe to be a once-in-a-lifetime, first-in-the-nation fundraising opportunity against Eastern Illinois.
SIU announced Tuesday that McElroy's project, an event benefiting the American Cancer Society Coaches vs. Cancer program, won a one-time only waiver from the NCAA and will go forward this year. It will allow fans from all over the world to bid on the chance to put their last name, or the last name of a loved one, past or present, on the back of one of 80 special black Under Armour game jerseys the Salukis will wear against the Panthers.
After the game, those same fans will get to wear the jerseys home.
"It kind of all started after that injury," said McElroy, who missed the last nine games of the 2010 season after suffering a high an-kle sprain against Illinois in Week 2. "Being hurt, kind of sitting on the sidelines thinking ‘All right, what's next? How do we do, what do we do next? How can we leave kind of an impact here other than football?' You know, a couple years down the road, people may forget what you've done. How many tackles you've had, how many interceptions you've had, so, that thought process was ‘What can we do as a team to kind of leave a legacy here in Southern Illinois?'"
Bidding began during the news conference Tuesday, SIU athletic director Mario Moccia said, and will run until late October. The minimum bid is $80 per jersey. Bids can be placed online at the cause's website, SalukisBlackoutCancer.com, or by calling 618-453-5153. The top 80 bids will be able to choose 12 characters, either with the initial of a first name or without, to have sewn into the back of their authentic game jersey. Any requests longer than 12 characters will be managed on a case-by-case basis.
The top bidder will also have his or her choice of what number they want their selection to appear on, with the second-highest having the second choice, and so on.
All proceeds will stay in the region, according to Jennifer Lee, the regional director of the Illinois Division/Southern Region chap-ter of the American Cancer Society in Marion.
The idea was met with optimism, but even more skepticism, because of the NCAA's traditional distaste of gambling, bidding of any kind related to a sporting event, and no precedent for SIU's case to stand on.
However, the NCAA recognized the event was primarily a fundraiser and gave it the OK with certain stipulations. SIU could not purchase the jerseys from Under Armour, which amounted to about $10,000, but was able to raise the money from Greg Cook, the owner of Cook's Portable Warehouses, and a group from Southern Illinois Orthopedic Center.
"Mike and coach, I remember, they knocked on my door. They told me this program story, and I remember thinking in my head ‘Yeah, there's no way that's going to happen,'" Moccia said. "And then I called Dan Rohrer, our compliance guy, and he said ‘Yeah, there's no way that's going to happen.' So I said ‘Hey guys, I'm all behind it, but, here's the hurdles,' and you know what? There's one guy that believed, and that was Mike. He took the reins.
"He hounded the heck out of ‘em, and, the next thing you know, he showed me the waiver, and I was like ‘Dan, you better come down here. You're not going to believe this.'"
On Twitter: @Todd_Hefferman