Hot Reads: 3 Questions About the NCAA's New Redshirt Rule
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: 3 Questions About the NCAA’s New Redshirt Rule

June 14, 2018

The NCAA Division I Council did the plainly obvious thing to do on Wednesday, approving a rule change that will allow players to play in up to four games without burning a redshirt. It wasn't so obvious the Council would actually approve the change back in March, but here we are in a brave new world that makes at least a little more sense.

That said, there's still a lot to sort out now that a coach's entire freshman class is now available for at least 33 percent of the season (not to mention any players on the roster with a redshirt available). That prompts many new questions, and I won't pretend to have the answers, but there's still value in exploring what's yet to be understood.

1. What is the optimal strategy here?

I've spent some time in the past considering the various permutations. Do you use the time early in the season to get those sure-to-redshirt players their game experience and treat it as sort of an audition? Do you come up with some sort of gradual rollout so you have more players available throughout the season? For the borderline cases –– say a JD Spielman in 2016 –– do you save those games in September and October in hopes that a player who is almost ready to play right away can really help you with a November push?

While I like to think that there are some coaches out there who will really embrace the opportunity here, we also know many coaches trend towards risk-adverse when it comes to unconventional thinking (see also: fourth down). That, of course, only increases the potential edge for those willing to think seriously about the new rule, but I'm not expecting to see many different approaches here. One will probably become standard.

(I also assume Alabama has already hired some former head coach as a Redshirt Consultant. Probably Les Miles.)

2. Does this change Nebraska's quarterback race?

I doubt it, but I guess it could. If Adrian Martinez is anywhere close to winning the job, even if he hasn't by Sep. 1, my guess is he'll play. If he's closer to No. 3 than No. 1, however, maybe you do start to think about a four-game plan.

Based on what we saw in the spring, however, the latter option would be a surprise. But you never know how injuries, even slight ones, might alter the entire timeline for a position group. On that note . . . 

3. What does this mean on the injury front?

I think it will change things quite a bit. Tre Bryant's name came up often in Nebraska circles yesterday when this news hit, but I found myself thinking more of Chris Jones. He suffered a serious injury last offseason, but made a pretty remarkable comeback to be available against Wisconsin in Week 5.

He wasn't the same Chris Jones at that early stage, however. What if he could've targeted Week 9 for a return knowing that he didn't have to make the all-or-none redshirt decision until the season was over? Or, if he felt ready, he still could've tried it in key games against Wisconsin and Ohio State (and two others) to see how he felt.

That four-game grace period offers a lot of flexibility, even for veteran players in unique circumstances. Jones wasn't too keen on a redshirt year, but with four games to play he would've been more informed about the value of another season as it pertained to his professional career. That's a very good thing.

Not only does this change make things better for players, but it should make the game better as a whole. That's why I'm not sure whether I should be surprised or simply relieved that it actually happened.

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