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New redshirt rule to have varying impact

By CRAIG HALEY

STATS FCS Senior Editor

(STATS) - The offseason in college football brought a handful of rules changes for the 2018 season, some affecting kickoffs, blocking below the waist, pace of play, even the way a uniform is worn.

What could be the most impactful change, though, involves the way the NCAA will classify players for a redshirt season. Players can now participate in up to four games without the season counting toward their four seasons of eligibility.

Previously, participation on just one play constituted a season of eligibility, so many schools have generally chosen to redshirt players in their first year on campus - have them get acclimated to college, practice with their teammates and get bigger and stronger physically without stepping onto the field in a game.

Over time, as roster sizes decreased and the frequency of injuries increased, coaches expressed the eligibility model was outdated. In June, they got their wish for change when the NCAA Division I Council passed a proposal that allows players to participate in any four games in a season and still use a redshirt that year. In essence, they now have 4 1/3 seasons of eligibility to use in their five-year clock.

Since the change, coaches have embraced the new standard with enthusiasm, if not unanimous approval.

"I really like the fact that it's good for the player, it's good for your team," Illinois State coach Brock Spack said.

"I think for our level of football, especially in FCS, for a roster-quality improvement, it's huge," New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell said.

"I think," McDonnell added, "it's an opportunity for us to make great evaluation of kids in your program, get them into hot water somewhat early in their freshman season and their redshirt season, and then go from there with it. But I think it has great, great ramifications on the depth of your roster and on playing people and giving them an opportunity to see what they can do at the next level."

While the new rule affects any potential redshirted player, the greatest impact will be with the true freshmen. More figure to get opportunities early in the season to determine whether they will redshirt or not.

There's flexibility in the rule because some potential redshirts could be utilized later in the season to balance roster sizes or supplement positions where there are injuries. It's even possible a potential redshirt could play up to four playoff games and not lose a season of eligibility.

"How you use the rule, I think it's going to be a little bit different depending on what position you're talking about," said coach Mike Houston of 2017 FCS runner-up James Madison. "I could see us using it different on the offensive line that we do in the secondary. I could see us using it different at one position of need versus another position where you've got good depth but you want to get some guys some game experience. I think it's a good rule; I think it's one that you'll see utilized a lot of different ways by coaches across the country."

Said Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley: "I think freshmen will become more evident in home games (when a team has a larger roster) and in nonconference games until you make that decision whether to play the fifth game with them or redshirt them."

The new rule means any player who might otherwise sit out the season will feel more engaged by potential opportunities to get on the field. Ultimately, more players will have more impact with their teams.

Updated August 30, 2018

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