Count Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente among the many supporters of college football's new redshirt rule.Michael Shroyer/Getty Images
Gone are the days when college football coaches had to weigh the impact of burning a redshirt late in the season. The NCAA has passed a rule that will allow players to participate in four games without sacrificing a year of eligibility.
It’s a hugely constructive decision for athletes and coaches alike. The effect will be seen immediately during the 2018 season and be apparent in several ways.
The NCAA release spelled out a couple of those benefits, as Miami athletic director and Division I Council chairman Blake James noted.
“This change promotes not only fairness for college athletes,but also their health and well-being,” James said. “Redshirt football student-athletes are more likely to remain engaged with the team, and starters will be less likely to feel pressure to play through injuries.”
James continued with the most important point: “Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition.”
Every year, fans have dreams of seeing their touted prospects on the field. Sometimes, that happens. This rule doesn’t affect a Jacob Eason or Ed Oliver, a Cam Akers or Najee Harris. In the right situation, those talented freshmen are going to play immediately.
This change is primarily about the redshirt-eligible athletes who weren’t physically or mentally ready to contribute in early September yet have developed enough to take the field by November. The secondary advantage is making the decision to burn redshirts late in the season for injury replacements far less challenging.
Ole Miss chose to burn Shea Patterson's redshirt in 2016 after Chad Kelly's injury, but it wasn't an easy choice.Sam Craft/Associated Press
Understandably, coaches have been hesitant to use a redshirting player in these positions. Until now, a single snap constituted a full year of eligibility unless an injury caused that player to miss at least 70 percent of his team’s games.
At best—for both players and coaches—that was immensely frustrating.
Football is a violent game. Injuries happen, and fatigue is a factor as the calendar turns. Depth charts and stamina are never the same in Game 10 as in Game 3, so relying on a freshman for 15 snaps in four late-season contests can provide a much-needed boost.
Given that another season could include 500-plus snaps, though, simple math explains why that has rarely happened in the past.
Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente reaffirmed that outlook, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch‘s Mike Barber.
Mike Barber @RTD_MikeBarber
#Hokies football coach Justin Fuente on NCAA the new redshirt rule: "I’m all for the change. Particularly when it gets late in the season and teams are dealing with attrition, it makes a lot of sense."
Thanks to this updated rule, redshirt-eligible players will have a clear reason to compete in practice during the entire season.
As much as we would like to suggest every athlete is motivated by the grind, that’s simply not the truth. Now, players can work toward a goal of seeing the field—even if that’s only a few times. And it’s especially meaningful for those on bowl-eligible teams.
After all, the value of additional practices prior to a postseason game are already well-documented.
“These 13 or 15 practices can’t be bought,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said in 2016, per Steve Megargee of the Associated Press (h/t the Spokesman-Review). “They have to be earned. And with that, it gives you an extra spring ball.”
Looking ahead, bowl practices could even propel a player who wasn’t ready in November into a contributing spot. If an upperclassman loses focus before a “meaningless” game, a wide-eyed, energetic redshirt can actually contend for snaps.
Additionally, in the past two seasons, several touted NFL draft prospects have elected to skip non-major bowl games.
Those players, such as Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette, rightfully had an eye on protecting their financial futures. Even if the four-game rule leads to more of those decisions, redshirt players could help fill the voids.
Peter Burns @PeterBurnsESPN
The BIGGEST winner outside of the players and coaches on this new NCAA 4 Game Redshirt rule? Non Playoff Bowl Games: A chance for younger guys to play with no bearing on how many years of eligibility they have left.
Besides, the ability to play a promising freshman might increase the level of fan interest beyond non-major bowl games.
Is your favorite team eliminated from the conference race? Is it only Week 9? Would you rather dig a garden in the desert than watch your school lose another game without offering a glimmer of hope? Fear not—we have a few freshmen for you to watch.
Coaches will have an opportunity to expand their pools of available players during the final month of a frustrating year. And instead of adjusting to the true speed of the Football Bowl Subdivision the next September, freshmen can discover that difference when results are considerably less effective.
Perhaps that playing time will lead to a reduction in transfers since athletes can have a better vision of how they fit on the roster. There won’t be enough data to test that hypothesis for at least a few years, but it’s a foreseeable result.
Overall, other than in specific cases, the aftermath of this rule change should be overwhelmingly positive.
If the main people who see no benefit are standout freshmen who would be on the field anyway, it’s safe to say the rule change will be productive for the sport.
Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.