Tom VanHaarenESPN Staff Writer
The Division I council recently approved a proposal that will allow student-athletes to participate in up to four games without burning their redshirt for the season. The rule will preserve a year of eligibility while still allowing some wiggle room for an athlete who hasn’t yet used his or her redshirt season.
Within college football, this rule could be implemented in a plethora of situations. To clear up any confusion as to what this new rule means and whom it will impact the most, ESPN asked anonymous assistant coaches from the ACC, Pac-12 and SEC for an explanation.
Is this new rule a positive overall, or a negative?
ACC coach: Positive. I think, No. 1, every place I’ve ever coached my entire life, a kid has a story that he played 15 snaps because there was an injury. He played 15 snaps or 30 snaps and lost an entire year because of it. It’s not fair to him, because he had to do it because of the injury, so now kids are safe from that. I also think a lot of coaches, especially in nonconference play, will be a lot more apt to play those borderline freshmen. Maybe he gets a taste of live action, he plays better with the motivation of playing time, and as a coach, you’re not so worried about burning that kid’s redshirt.
Pac-12 coach: I think it’s a really good thing. It could be motivation. If you go down and crush it on scout team for the first half of the season, now there’s that motivation that we’ll play you. You don’t have to wait until next year. I don’t see too many negatives with it.
SEC coach: I think there’s obviously more positive. The majority of the kids who come to college now are so far ahead physically, they’re closer to being ready to play. The thing that is the unknown is how the kid is going to handle college mentally. Those are the things that usually hold some guys back. The only way you can determine that is to put them out there and play. It’ll give you an opportunity to put them out there under the lights and make a decision if this guy is a two-game guy or a one-game guy.
Are there any negatives from the new rule?
SEC coach: I think there are some things that will come from this, but I do think there’s going to be an influx of transfers. You play a kid two games and then you pull him back; he goes through the whole year and he does everything you ask. You get to the bowl game and you’re going to play that kid because you’re anticipating he’s going to contribute next year. So you’re going to play that kid in the bowl game because it doesn’t trigger his redshirt. There’s going to be somebody on the team that says if you’re already playing him in the bowl game ahead of me, I’m probably not going to play next year. So that’s going to create some transfers or movement.
What players could this impact the most?
ACC coach: That’s going to be huge for quarterbacks. Especially a guy who’s behind an established starter. If you do it right, you basically have four seasons and four games, and I think for the overall development of the kid, that will be huge. One of the unintended consequences of it, because of the rule, a lot more freshman quarterbacks will play. Just to keep them happy, keep him there, hopefully don’t transfer, you’ll put him out there. On the flip side of that, when you have these five-star quarterbacks who can play, but they’re at a place with an established starter, now if they transfer, [other teams will] have a lot more tape to look at. You’re getting a lot more grad transfers with two years of eligibility, and now you’ll have more tape from actual game film to scout.
SEC coach: Offensive and defensive line is probably an area you won’t see it as much. But the skill positions, you might get a receiver who is physically ready but might not know the playbook, so it buys him some time.
Does the new rule impact Power Five or Group of Five schools more?
Pac-12 coach: I don’t know that it will necessarily impact either one more than the other. As far as those big-time recruits that people think will play right away, you kind of have an idea with him that he’ll play early. But what about the kid that comes in and didn’t have all the hype and he’s just crushing it on scout team? I think there are more of those type of players at the Group of Five level. You’re bringing in 25 guys who aren’t five-stars and you don’t know how it’s going to sort out.
SEC coach: I think it helps the Group of Five schools the most, because you’re expanding the depth. If you can replace that second-string walk-on with a freshman scholarship guy for four games, maybe you can win a few more [games]. It helps those Group of Five teams establish legitimate scholarship depth, and you’re not playing with walk-ons. Your first-string guy is good, and there’s a big drop off to your second string; now you can plug in a freshman and you give yourself a chance.
How do you choose which games to play your athletes in?
ACC coach: I think there’s going to be a whole science in terms of roster management with it. Let’s say everyone’s healthy; now what four games do we want to get guys experience in so they’re better as a redshirt freshman, sophomore and junior? I don’t think it will be a blanket deal. With quarterbacks, you’ll have coaches who will only play guys in blowouts, then you’ll have the coaches who will say let’s be smart about it and get this kid 10 reps in a rivalry game, even if it’s just on special teams, so he can be a part of it. The kids that are redshirting on the scout team, let’s get this kid 12 reps on kickoff and use it as a motivational tool. I think there will be some forward thinking if they use it as a motivational tool or developmental tool.
Pac-12: The biggest advantage of the whole thing is the attrition. Guys are going down with injuries and the rosters aren’t super big already. Now you can use those four games to help bridge injuries and you’re not burning a redshirt. And you can save guys for the bowl games. We’re seeing a lot of big-name guys not play in bowl games, and I think this will add an element to it. This kid’s going to be a top-10 [draft] pick and wants to preserve his interests. Well, now I can activate this freshman [in his place], and he’s getting better and more comfortable for the next season.
SEC coach: We’re not going to throw kids out there that aren’t anywhere near ready; it’s not a test run. You put a corner out there and he doesn’t get the check, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing William & Mary or Alabama, he’s going to get scored on. So do you use the guy who’s ready in the first four games to see what’s going on? In the middle of the season when the injury bug hits and you’re trying to get through that? Do you use him in one nonconference game and three conference games? If I’m Akron, I might not put him out there against Ohio State early on. For us, it might make sense to put our kids out early to build some confidence, give him a legitimate chance to show what he can do. It just depends on where you’re at.