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NCAA rules committee will re-examine college football’s redshirt rule

A change to the rule would benefit both players and coaches.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

As it stands now, if a college football player steps on the field during the season for even one snap, he burns his redshirt. All too commonly, coaches are forced to burn the redshirts of kids they’d prefer to keep on the shelf because of injuries. Coaches, not surprisingly, would like to see this rule adjusted.

The current rule considers a student-athlete to have used a season of competition once he or she participates in competition, unless the student satisfies an exception or qualifies for a waiver.

A concept presented to the committee by the American Football Coaches Association suggests allowing a football student to compete in a limited number of football games throughout the season without using a season of competition.

The AFCA’s rationale for its recommendation is that each year some students exhaust a year of athletic eligibility by participating in a few games because of injuries sustained by others at their position. Those situations can be difficult for both the coach and the affected students.

Letting kids play a few games or even just establishing a set number of snaps they can play in a season while still maintaining their redshirt eligibility would be beneficial to both players and coaches. On game day, every decision has to be made quickly—coaches simply don’t have time to step back and think about the longer-term implications of their choices, they have to respond to what’s going on in front of them in a hurry.

This inevitably leads to hasty but necessary decisions when injuries or other circumstances force them to adapt their personnel in the moment. And for the players, this can have significant consequences for their development since losing a redshirt year means their eligibility clock begins ticking in earnest.

Added flexibility here would allow coaches to play some of the younger guys they like and get them some early experience—especially in early-season blowouts against cupcakes—while knowing they’ll still be able to preserve that year of eligibility for the future.

That’s probably going to benefit any given program’s long-term health and stability, which is no doubt why the AFCA has brought this to the NCAA. Why put coaching staffs in difficult positions in-season when that’s really not necessary? And why prevent them from giving underclassmen some experience in low-pressure situations?

And it’s not Freshman McLinebacker’s fault that the program suffered four major injuries at his position in October and suddenly he’s needed to help out on the field, so don’t penalize him for circumstances outside of his control. There’s enough pressure that comes with being thrown into a contributing role earlier than anticipated.

Back in 2012, Maryland coach Randy Edsall burned the redshirt of quarterback Caleb Rowe for one last-minute drive against NC State because Edsall felt Rowe ran the two-minute drill the best of his available options. (Maryland was decimated by injuries at QB that year.) That was the seventh game of the season and Maryland lost anyway.

That’s just one example among many of how the current rule can be unfair. One play or one drive shouldn’t cost a player his redshirt, and I think most folks would agree with that notion. I hope the NCAA eventually gets there too.