Hot Reads: Are Teams Going to Need Redshirt Deployment Directors?
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: Are Teams Going to Need Redshirt Deployment Directors?

January 19, 2018

The annual NCAA convention is wrapping up over the next two days in Indianapolis, bringing plenty of stories about the imagined (or sometimes just proposed) future of college athletics. Transfer reform has been the most covered aspect of these meetings so far, and a vote on a proposal (that doesn’t fully exist yet) could come over the summer.

One proposal forwarded by the ACC that’s up for approval in April, however, is to allow football players who appear in four or fewer games to maintain their redshirt. This one has interested me since the American Football Coaches Association came out in support of it about a year ago because it has interesting strategic implications.

As ESPN’s Mitch Sherman notes in his story from the convention, think about a player liker Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who had some mop-up duty before coming in and igniting a Crimson Tide comeback in the national championship game:

Surely, Alabama could have devised a plan in which he was available only against LSU and Auburn, perhaps, and for two of three possible postseason games.
The creation of such a secret weapon, so to speak, is not the intent of the redshirt proposal.
“That’s such an exceptional circumstance,” said Northwestern offensive guard Tommy Doles, a member of the NCAA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “I’m primarily looking at this from the perspective of who it’s going to affect. Maybe it’s worth it for one or two of those situations because of all the benefit it brings.”

I don’t know that it’s that exceptional of a circumstance. In any freshman class of 20-to-25 players a team will have its top tier of players who are good enough to play right away. No change for them. The bottom tier, the guys who clearly need a year, probably does experience a change. If a team can get those guys in four games free of charge, whether its in the fourth quarter of a blowout or on special teams, might as well do it, right? Let those guys know what it feels like to play big-time college football in front of a full stadium?

It’s the middle tier where things get potentially interesting. Think of a guy like JD Spielman in 2016. He was close to playing. It was a borderline decision on whether to redshirt him or not. For a player like that, what if he has eight weeks to continue getting used to the game in practice and then is basically available over the final month of the season? A school could have four or five guys like that in each class.

And there’s nothing to say teams would have to take that New Blood November approach and stack up all that practice experience at the start of the year. Coaches could also play matchups. Nothing like introducing a new player who can maybe do one thing really well in a game you really need to win. 

Now that’s an admittedly remote possibility, the player who isn’t yet good enough to play 12 games, but might cause problems for, say, an Ohio State cornerback in October, but under this proposal the potential is at least there. There would no longer be any incentive to not use every player on the roster for at least four games, so how do you use them? 

My guess is most staffs wouldn’t want to think this hard about something they didn’t have to consider previously. But some will. When this proposal clears the first hurdle in April – and I’m virtually certain it will because it comes wrapped with a nice player-benefit bow – don’t be surprised when Alabama quietly hires a Director of Redshirt Deployment to add to its gargantuan staff.

I’m kidding, I think. (Though if the Tide did do that, I’d watch their redshirt strategy intently.)

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