In 2018, the NCAA made significant changes to their redshirt rules for football. In 2020, they once again had to issue rules related to COVID-19 about the eligibility of players who did not get to play because of the pandemic.
The redshirt rules have long been topics of discussion in all NCAA sports, but with the 2018 changes still fresh in the minds of many NCAA rules committee members, there have been pushes for some of the COVID changes to stay in place after the pandemic. Other talking heads in the world of college football have some negative evaluations of what has occurred since the 2018 changes, and believe further changes to the redshirt rules should be made.
Pressure for the changes comes from players, social media, coaches, families, and fans, as athletes at all levels were negatively affected by COVID stipulations. Many high school students were not allowed to participate at all in their sports, and even most of those who did get to play some did so in a shortened season. This means less of a chance to get noticed by a college. Those colleges, however, also faced shortened seasons and want to give their current players the opportunity to perform when they could not before.
For students who truly just want to have a scholarship pay for their school, a simple fix would be allowing for an extra year of eligibility for those current students who were unable to play, but also allowing the next wave of Freshmen to be eligible for scholarships. For those students who really want to play, and may even have a shot at doing so professionally, there simply may not be enough snaps to go around. Here is a look at some of the rules and possible changes in a post-covid college football world.
In simple terms, redshirting is the term given to a member of a collegiate sports team who is allowed to practice with the team, participate in team activities, but not play in games, ultimately allowing them to be part of the team for 5 years instead of 4. When you hear the term “redshirt freshman” on TV, it simply means a student who is a freshman when it comes to the 4-year player eligibility, but who has been with the team for two years (i.e. a sophomore academically). It’s not uncommon that redshirt seniors play after getting their bachelor’s degree and enrolling in graduate classes. A funny-but-relevant example would be Matt Leinart of USC, who was only enrolled in Ballroom Dancing when he lead his team to the National Championship Game.
As of 2018
With situations such as Leinart’s it’s no surprise that redshirting rules have always been a bit murky, and not just in football. In 2018, however, NCAA football incorporated a 4-game rule for redshirt eligibility, meaning if a student played less than four games, he could still claim that season as redshirted, making him a freshman the next year, ultimately still having four full seasons of eligibility on the field.
This allows coaches to try out their freshman at the beginning of a season without costing them an entire year of eligibility. It also allows for redshirt players to fill in at the end of the season if an upperclassman suffers an injury or concussion.
Generally, in all NCAA sports, a student has 5 years to play 4 years of his or her sport. With the COVID stipulation, every athlete was given an extra year, meaning they have 6 years to compete in games for four of those years. While not all athletes are expected to utilize this extra year, it does mean more competition for incoming freshman, as there are now 6 classes competing instead of five.
Many people, especially those in the corners of the incoming freshman, believe that these incoming freshman should be granted the same 6-year window, but then the question must be asked, “Who doesn’t get that 6th year?” The 6th year has long been discussed for cases regarding season-long injuries, and allowing it to become the norm would mean less student athletes rushing their rehabilitation periods, and no group of student athletes will being forced to face the “5 classes competing for 5 years of eligibility” scenario.
A combination of the rules that existed before 2018, the rule changes in 2018, and the rules related to COVID is expected to be adapted amidst heavy pressure from fans, students, athletes and parents alike.