By LARRY VAUGHT
If the American Football Coaches Association has its way, college football players would be allowed to play in four games and still be able to count that as a redshirt season.
Most coaches already seem to be in favor of the potential change, including influential Alabama coach Nick Saban.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops likes the proposed change and would have liked to have had that option last year when starting quarterback Drew Barker got hurt. Stephen Johnson became the starter but because Stoops wanted to redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak, he did not have him play any as a backup.
“We decided to keep that redshirt on Gunnar Hoak in game 11 and played our third-team quarterback who did some good things, but anyway, it was a situation where it could’ve benefitted us a year ago,” said Stoops. “I think it makes a lot of sense. It can protect the player and the redshirt year, help gain a little bit of experience for the following year.”
Could coaches take advantage of this rule? Sure. Could players benefit from this change? Absolutely.
I reached out to several people who could be impacted — or would have been impacted — by this change to gauge their feelings.
“I think that would be one of the smartest things the NCAA has done honestly … it would give people like (UK defensive back) Tobias (Williams) and me and many other kids a chance to show if we can handle it as freshman or not without ruining our redshirt,” said Ohio junior defensive end Alex Reigelsperger, a 2018 UK commit.
“It would also allow people to play when a team is up or down by a lot (of points). I think it would be just absolutely amazing to have that happen. I really do.”
Good point about lopsided scores. If a team is up 35 points, or down 35 points, in the second half, this proposed change would allow a coach to play a potential redshirt player a bit to gain experience — and also keep from running the score up on the losing team.
Anthony Williams’ son, Jarren, is another 2018 commit. The Georgia quarterback had scholarship offers from Alabama, LSU, Georgia and many more.
“I think this is an awesome rule because it gives a player an opportunity to be developed at the same time they are able to gain game experience that would be significant to the football program for the next year,” Anthony Williams said. “This would be a win for the program and the player.”
Holly Hoak, Gunnar’s mother, thinks the potential change has a lot of positives and notes how UK’s options were limited last year after Barker got hurt.
“If he (Gunnar) had been able to play without penalty, he could have gained valuable experience, possibly helped the team out, all without losing that fifth year,” Holly Hoak said.
She also has another valid concern.
“On the other side, I don’t think the rule should lead players to believe it’s a ‘free for all’ where guys are thinking that everyone should get an opportunity to play. Some guys truly need that freshman year to adjust to the game – both in the weight room and learning the playbook,” Hoak said.
“I think the new rule should be on an individual basis. If it passes, I trust that coach Stoops will have the individual’s best interest in mind and what’s best for the team.”
Former Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles didn’t have a four-game option his redshirt season. He spent his redshirt year walking the sideline knowing he would not play.
“I think it is a really fine line (about the four-game proposal),” Towles, who played his final season at Boston College, said. “I would just rather give a player five years of eligibility in the first place. And take out the redshirt all together.”
Most players probably would agree with that. Florida coach Jim McElwain would, too.
Former Kentucky quarterback Freddie Maggard, now an analyst for Kentucky Sports Radio as well as the UK Network, worries the rule “is meant to be manipulated” like other NCAA rules.
”Most likely, bowl folks had a say so in this one due to (LSU’s Leonard) Fournette and (Stanford’s Christian) McCaffrey skipping bowl games to prepare for the NFL,” Maggard said. “Perhaps the allure of an unseen (redshirt) future star could sell tickets and bring eyes to TV’s.
“However, I’m actually okay with this new rule. Five (years) to play four will stay intact, but now leeway is allowed for special circumstance. But, I’ve been saying this for a year now, until the size of support staff and non-coaching coaches are regulated, the NCAA’s credibility in football circles remains cloudy. Competitive advantage due to finance scenarios must be eliminated.”
Finally, I wondered how DeDe Haynes would feel. Her son, Nick, will be a fifth-year senior offensive lineman at UK this fall. He recently graduated and will have a fifth year to work on another degree or certification.
Even though the rule would not help her son, she thinks is a “wonderful” proposal.
“Definitely good news for the player and coach because it provides our freshmen with the opportunity to conduct a self-assessment of their athletic skills as well as their mental capacity in a real-time fashion,” she said. “Although practice may make one’s skillset better … blocks, pancakes, snaps, catches, etc. in real-time provides the player with a playbook of improvement areas in order to make their game perfect,” she said.
“It also gives them the opportunity to take advantage of the fifth year of academia, thus capitalizing on their true purpose of being in college … education,” DeDe Haynes said.
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