Hot Reads: Are We Really Going to Punt on Redshirt Reform?
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Hot Reads: Are We Really Going to Punt on Redshirt Reform?

March 23, 2018

College football, our sport that has always made the least sense, may be about to punt a can't-miss idea that would allow athletes to appear in up to four games while maintaining a redshirt year. The redshirt reform in football, proposed by the ACC and co-signed by the Big 12, was expected to be put before the NCAA Division I Council for approval next month.

According to a report from Stewart Mandel of The Athletic on Thursday, supporters of the proposal are now considering pulling it altogether:

“Apparently, there is a group out there that has been resistant,” the American Football Coaches Association’s executive director [Todd Berry] told The Athletic this week. “It’s powerful enough where some of the administrators have concerns whether it’s going to pass or whether we should even propose it. You can’t bring it up again for another two years.”

From afar it's hard to imagine where this resistance is coming from, and Berry doesn't specifically point the finger in the story. Players would presumably be in favor of this (though we know they don't have a vote). Coaches, understandably, all seem to be in favor of it. Scott Frost said last month that the proposal would "help the development of kids." Fans would benefit, too, from a chance to see all of the players fawned over in the recruiting process right away.

So what's the issue? Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told Mandel that the resistance may have to do with separating football from the rest of the NCAA sports by putting the former on a five-year calendar while all the other sports remain on a four-year timeline.

I suppose there could be some merit to that. Current NCAA rules for all sports give athletes five years to complete four seasons of eligibility. I couldn't find any solid numbers on redshirt rates across sports, but I have to assume that football makes up the majority of redshirts in any given year. For sports with smaller roster sizes, it's simply not as easy to sit a player out for a season just based on numbers.

If that's the case football's redshirt reform would set it apart because you would have to assume every player would be in school for five years instead of four. Who wouldn't? The players good enough to play in 12 games as a true freshman and the players good enough to pursue a professional career before their eligibility has expired. That's not the majority of players. Not even close. Throw in an increasing number of players enrolling early, and you do face the prospect of having a large number of athletes in school for a longer period of time.

Maybe there are real concerns to be considered there. Maybe it just feels a little bit more like a "career," which is a word that comes too close to "employment." 

Is that going to be reason enough to kick this proposal down the road for a few years? We'll find out in a month, I guess, but at some point the NCAA is probably going to have to realize that football isn't like all the other sports. It isn't treated as such when it's viewed as the cash cow at just about every university. It isn't viewed as such when it's time to go to the donors and get a gleaming new locker room . . . for football . . . because you have to win and to win you have to get players and young players are impressed by shiny things.

But this specific case seems to be one of those matters of principle for the NCAA. It's hard to hold up the age-old ideals of amateurism and acknowledge a changing world at the same time.

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