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Thoughts on the Redshirt Rule and Other Proposals

A brief look at the some of the proposals and ideas discussed at AFCA

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, at the American Football Coaches Association awards and meetings, it provided a quick look into potential ideas and proposed changes into how College Football is run. No, there is no talk of changing the playoff structure at this time. However, there were a number of things brought up that are worth discussing here, including perhaps something everyone can agree on: tweaking the redshirt rule.

Can Play in 4 Games and Still Redshirt

This is the biggest and most realistic proposal discussed at AFCA. Currently, a redshirt works in a few different ways. The most common of which is true freshman redshirting. A player has 5 years to play 4 years and many spend their first year on campus redshirting. This is done to preserve eligibility while a player needs to gain weight, learn the playbook, focus on academics, or simply because a young player isn’t ready to play or else is blocked on the depth chart. All of this allows the player to take care of what is needed and then have 4 years to play 4. In this case, as soon as a player took a snap of college football, there redshirt is burned.

Secondly and still somewhat common, there is the term medical redshirt floating around. Again the bottom line here is it preserves eligibility. If an athlete played as a true freshman but then got hurt somewhere along the way and was going to be out a majority of the year, a team will decide to use a medical redshirt as not to waste a year of eligibility. The catch here is that a player cannot play more than 30% of the season or three games (whichever is greater, per athleticscholarships.net). So if a player gets hurt within the first month of the season and could be back by November but possibly not, it may be best to use their medical redshirt if they can.

Anyway, this proposal wants to tweak the way the first rule is understood. Because what happens if a true freshmen looks great in fall camp and earns a backup role, but then is overmatched once the games start? Or perhaps they look great against out of conference competition but not against tougher conference foes? What if a freshman isn’t ready to play the start of the year but they come on strong the 2nd half? Or if injuries to upperclassman force a freshman to need to play at the end of the year? The answer to all of these questions is it would count as a year of eligibility for the player in question.

Changing the rule to allow a player to play in any four games in a season and still fall under redshirt status would cover a multitude of issues. This could play out in a few ways, all of which benefit the player as well as the team:

  • Going into fall camp, a true freshman is on the fence for a backup or special teams role, but a coach isn’t sure how they would fare in games. Being able to play them for a game against an easier non-conference team at the start of the year would show where the player is at. Or even planning to play them against 3 or 4 of the easiest teams during the season would be ok. They get valuable experience with in-game coaching and can still redshirt.
  • If a player is overwhelmed or overmatched at the start of the year, they usually don’t play. But sometimes, over the course of the season, the game slows down for them in practice, things clicks and they begin to excel. But instead of coaches electing not to burn a redshirt for the final month of the year, they can now reward them by bringing them in for a few games. Again, this can be used to gain experience and confidence, using that momentum as they come in the following season as redshirt freshmen who know what it takes to play a college game instead of being untested going into their second year on campus. This especially may be useful in negating star players sitting out of bowl games, a growing trend in college football. While a new freshmen isn’t quite an even switch for a star junior or senior, it may help soften the blow and not leave a term completely short-handed.
  • On a similar note, the end of the year usually leaves a team beaten up and sometimes positions can be depleted due to injuries. At times, a sophomore walk-on (for example) is called upon a for a bigger role than they are prepared for in order to preserve the redshirt of a more talented true freshman. With the new rule, the freshman can step up the last few games of a season to cover for an injured player, allowing the team to have a better chance to compete.
  • While maybe not a common scenario, it would also not be too hard to imagine coaches becoming creative with this. Imagine two freshmen who are more or less evenly skilled and the team needs one of them to play this season. Neither (or both) separate themselves in fall camp but the need is still there. A coach can play two (or even three) true freshman at a position four games each and preserve the redshirts of all three. Maybe this occurs at backup spots running back, receiver, linebacker, or even less-heraled roles like on special teams, but coaches would tell you those spots are important to a successful season.

Sure this may create some questions or issues for a team. A player on the fence may still be on the fence after four games and it may only prolong the question of whether to burn the redshirt or not, but at least they have a body of work to go off of. Perhaps the biggest concern would be redshirting freshmen normally occupy many of the scout team roles over the course of a season and having to prepare as a scout team player as well as having to prepare for a package of plays may be overwhelming for anyone, let alone an athlete who is in their first season of college football. That being said, one could imagine the coaches being able to overcome that, as the pros seem to outweigh the cons.

Stance: Make it happen! There are far more positives than negatives for both the player and the team.

Tweak Fall Camp/Increase Fall Camp Roster

But a team can only have 85 scholarship players, right? Correct. However, when factoring in preferred walk-ons or plain old walk-ons, the current rule is 105 players can participate in fall-camp. You may hear recruits talks about a PWO offer or a P-105 offer and it is in reference to this maximum roster. Due to this, sometimes there are walk-ons who cannot participate in fall camp and have to wait until school in officially in session to join the team.

This can only benefit the 5 extra players allowed to be in pre-season camp if it goes through. For a player trying to make a good impression or earn that coveted scholarship, those extra practices can go a long way towards learning the playbook, being in D1 football shape, or being chosen for special teams or scout team role, which is often where walk-ons get noticed.

If they are any negatives to allowing this, I can’t think of any.

Stance: A definite yes

An Attempt to Constrict Grad-Tranferring

This doesn’t make much sense. I don’t think grad-transferring really hurts the game or teams. Sure, it’s a loop-hole that is being exposed and not fulfilling its original purpose. It is meant to reward players who obtain their degrees before exhausting their eligibility and allows them to seek another school to pursue a grad-program (that wasn’t available at the original school) and they can play football at the new school right away. It goes without saying those using this rule aren’t looking for academics first and are instead looking for a good opportunity in their last year of football eligibility. But again, the player earned a degree and in a way, deserves the right to transfer at this point.

Teams don’t want to lose players, that’s obvious. Although unsure of the numbers offhand, many who use this rule aren’t usually the starts on their team and aren’t usually transferring in to the blue-chip programs. Of course there are the Russell Wilsons and Vernon Adams of the rule, but there are just as many players who aren’t cracking the rotation at big schools and use the rule to transfer in to a smaller or non-elite school and are able to play before losing their eligibility (which is what it’s all about right?). Montell Cozart grad-transferred from Kansas to Boise State and was a co-starter at QB on the conference champion Broncos.

The biggest winner of this rule may have been former MWC and Boise State quarterback Ryan Finley. He was at Boise State for 3 years; redshirted but also had shoulder surgery, was a backup, and started 3 games before breaking his ankle and was lost for the rest of the year. After not winning the starting job back in the spring, he graduated in 3 years (major props to him), was granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA for losing 2 seasons due to injury, and grad-transferred to NC State with 3 years to play 3. That’s impressive.

Bottom line, this rule benefits the players and restricting the schools who take a grad-transfer in not only seems silly but unnecessary, keep this the way it is.

Stance: Hard-no

1-time Transfer Rule

(Update: they have pushed this back to be discussed next year)

On the other hand, there’s a discussion (which is much different from an actual proposal) to loosen the rules on regular transferring. Which doesn’t really make sense. Why would one want to take a hard stance on a student-athlete who earned his degree and wants to leave rather than a student-athlete who hasn’t been on campus enough time to fight for a spot or earn a degree?

There are some positives though. If a player is home-sick or it is clear the school just isn’t a good fit like was previously thought, the player can get a fresh start. Perhaps the biggest reason would be during a coaching change. A player was brought in to be in one system and a new coach and new system comes in and the player is now going to be passed over by recruits being brought in by the new coaching staff.

There are many cons to this as well. In this day and age, how much can teams of the NCAA actually restrict and control tampering? If a player flew under the radar and ended up at a Group of 5 school and lit the conference on fire, what is to stop him from transferring and immediately being able to play for a Power 5 team? It’s basically extending poaching in recruiting until a year or two after they are signed. Teams already have trouble fending off poachers, now they want to make is more difficult?

Overall, it can be understood that coaches want to attempt to control transferring, which is increasing by the year already. First there needs to be clear and enforceable rules on tampering. Ones without loopholes (although I have no idea what those would look like). Second, transferring should be limited only to when there is a head coaching change at the school and only available to players who have been on campus less than two seasons. Transferring cannot become free agency or a no-limits poaching for rich schools looking to get richer. It would destroy the game.

Stance: Maybe, but with clearly defined rules and only in the case of a head coach leaving, as stated above

As always, join the discussion and state whether you agree or disagree by commenting below.