If a proposal from the American Football Coaches Association regarding redshirt eligibility had been in place last season, Missouri wide receiver Nate Brown would have seen the field.
“He was so close to being ready and I think he could have done enough to help us out,” Tigers coach Barry Odom said of Brown, who had ankle surgery in September. “But I didn’t want to use a year for him on three games in November.”
Under current NCAA rules, if a player takes the field for even one play, it counts as a full season.
There are limited exceptions for a medical hardship waiver, but the new rule would allow a player to appear in up to four games at any point in the season and still count it as a redshirt season — which doesn’t count against an athlete’s four seasons of playing eligibility.
“If that rule would have been in place, we could have used (Brown) a little bit,” Odom said.
Odom isn’t alone in his support for the measure, which is unanimously embraced by Southeastern Conference coaches.
“It’s a good rule, whether you play them early or play them late, it doesn’t matter,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “You give them a chance to adjust to the speed of the game and get a chance to get their feet wet. … This rule has been a long time coming, if it is approved, and I’m all for it.”
Mason cited former quarterback Wade Freebeck as a prime example.
After starting four games in 2014 before losing his job, Freebeck appeared in one game in 2015, throwing six passes against Austin Peay, but it cost him a full year of eligibility.
“He showed well in practice, but you put him in a game situation and he wasn’t quite ready for it,” Mason said. “… I’m sure there’s many more Wade Freebeck’s out there, who’ve had to play just due to roster size or where you depth-wise on your roster. One game cost him a season.”
With seasons getting longer — some teams play as many as 15 games per season — and given the toll football takes players, especially with the prevalence of spread offenses in college, it’s seen as a commonsense rule.
“Love it,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said of the proposal. “That would be great. … It adds to your roster and it adds to the development of your team and adds to your rotation. This is basketball on grass nowadays. You’ve got some offenses out there trying to run 100 plays. The game has doubled since when we played, so the more guys you can play without burning a year would be great.”
Some players may not be ready to contribute immediately, but might improve enough in practice during the season to merit game reps.
Other players might seem ready to contribute when camp breaks, but struggle to find regular playing time while adjusting to the college game or due to a minor injury.
The new rule would give coaches latitude to provide opportunities without risking a full season of eligibility.
“It’s a good thing from the standpoint of what’s fair to a player, because, as a coach, sometimes you’ve got to make quick decisions in fall camp,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “This will give everyone a little more information and not hurt the player as much. It’s a good thing for coaches and for players.”
It might also alleviate roster pressure for bowl games — which two notable draft-eligible players, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and LSU running back Leonard Fournette, opted to skip last season.
“Those guys affect teams,” Mason said. “Is that going to be a future trend? I don’t know, but, as we move forward, coaches have to prepare for guys that may be draft-worthy to possibly not play in postseason games.”