Last month, a major rule change occurred in college football that will immediately alter the landscape across the country. The NCAA Division I Council passed a proposal in June that will allow players to participate in any four games of a season and still use a redshirt that year. Athletes are allowed to play four full seasons over five calendar years, using one as a redshirt. With the new rule, a player can now play four seasons plus an additional four games.
During Big Ten Media Days, many coaches were asked about their thoughts on the new rule and the strategy of how they plan to implement it. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald gave a great global view of the rule during his opening press conference.
“I'm fired up about that rule," Fitzgerald said. “I think there's a lot of coaches in the country excited about it. First of all, it's great for players. I was one of those really below-average guys that played as a true freshman. I was the best of the worst. And it was not a very good experience for our defense when I was out there.
"I would have been a lot better if I only played in four games, I promise you that.”
In addition to talking about the big picture view, Fitzgerald also spoke about the strategy behind utilizing the new rule.
“But as we get into really the meat of October and November, I think it gives us an opportunity when maybe we have some guys that are banged up the opportunity to maybe plug a guy in here or there to continue to have us have competitive depth," Fitzgerald said. "Especially in a place like Northwestern, we've got 27 great young men that walk on — that group gets added to the mix, too — along with our scholarship players from a standpoint of opportunity to hopefully bolster our special teams if not anything else. So, I think it's great from a health and safety standpoint. And also, obviously for us for the flexibility from a coaching standpoint, it's huge."
There were other coaches that immediately thought about the rule from a roster management standpoint. Coaches often worry about depleted depth over the course of a season, especially given the rugged nature of the Big Ten.
Penn State coach James Franklin echoed Fitzgerald’s sentiments on the health and safety benefits of the new rule.
“I do think that what we've done this year with the redshirt rule really helps with that because coaches and players get into some challenging situations where late in the season you have an injury and you're trying to decide whether you're going to burn a kid's redshirt season for one game or two games at the end of the season," Franklin said. "I think that was a really, really positive rule for our student-athletes and for the game as a whole."
As for Nebraska coach Scott Frost, he's a fan of the rule overall. He agreed that there’s been too many situations in college football where players burn a redshirt and then don’t end up playing as much as expected, resulting in a wasted year.
Frost was also one of the few coaches that acknowledged that his staff has a plan already in place.
“Any kid — freshman, newcomer in the program — that we think is ready to play, we’re going to play them because we’re going to need the depth and the help this year," Frost said. "If they’re obviously not going to play and use the year, we’re going to space them out and use different kids at different periods during the season to try and help our depth on special teams and try to get their feet wet. We’ve kind of got a basic plan for that but individually we’ll see where everybody falls after camp.”
Does part of that basic plan Frost and his staff have include getting as many freshmen on the field as possible this year? Perhaps even all of the newcomers to the program? If possible, Frost would say yes.
“If every newcomer to our program, every freshman touched the field and got their feet wet, that’s ideal," Frost said. "I don’t know if you can make that happen or not. Depends on how the games go and depends on their development. But if you have the opportunity to let them taste college football I think they’ll be even better next year.”
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm thought a little differently about the new rule, given the rebuilding mode his program is currently in. Brohm is taking more of a “wait and see” approach when it comes to deploying the rule. He sees it as an opportunity to possibly set up more player development.
“I don’t want to play a guy before he’s ready and sometimes that happens and it’ll effect those guys the rest of the year," Brohm said. "I think the latter will probably happen more, guys will get guys prepared to play and if they’re not quite ready we’ll hold them to mid-year or after and see how it goes. Now, if you’re stuck using them early, that’s fine. You can pull them out early and save a few games at the end.
"There may be other teams that are farther along than us that will play them right away and see how that goes but for us, I would anticipate us getting guys ready but not utilizing them too early and having them ready in the middle of the season and beyond.”
It seems like a majority of the Big Ten coaches favor the new redshirt rule. The health and safety benefits seem the most enticing. The strategy of the new rule and how different teams plan to implement it will be a big storyline this season as teams navigate it.
It's just another exciting wrinkle added to the world of college football.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.