PULLMAN – A proposal to allow redshirting freshmen to play up to four football games while still saving their eligibility has college football’s tastemakers dreaming of previously unseen players being unleashed in bowl games.
But conversations with Washington State football coach Mike Leach and Cougars defensive coordinator Alex Grinch indicate that coaches may not want to wait until the end of the season to make use of those players.
“I wouldn’t necessarily save them for the bowl game,” Leach said. “The first reason would be the chance to continue to evaluate young guys, since you’re not sure where they’re at and they evolve. They can help your depth.”
The Cougars have had to burn the redshirts of freshmen late in the season because of injuries at key positions. For example, 2017 senior Marcellus Pippins did not play until the 10th game of his freshman season, when WSU suddenly needed a cornerback.
“From a roster management standpoint, it makes sense,” Grinch said. “As you look at 85 scholarships, theoretically if you signed 25 freshmen and redshirted all of them, now you’re down to 60 individuals trying to go through a 12-game or more season.”
The proposal, which the American College Football Coaches Association is forwarding to the NCAA, would allow teams to use players in those contingencies without sacrificing their final years of eligibility.
Grinch and Leach both expressed their hopes that the rule change would be retroactive so that current players who played four or fewer games in one season can get those years back.
Grinch said that while it may make sense for some players to make their debuts late in the season, coaches would need to evaluate each player and their expected development curve individually. Some players may be considered alternates who could step in at any point in the season in the event a teammate is injured or otherwise unable to play.
“There are so many different scenarios, and it’s difficult to know when players will be ready and when you will need them,” Grinch said. “I don’t think there’s a blanket way to do it. But the nice thing is, because there are so many variables, it gives you some more options.”
Perhaps the most likely scenario is that coaches would use the first four games of the season to get extended looks at first-year players and use those auditions to see which players need to redshirt and which carve out roles for themselves on the team.
Consider wide receiver Dezmon Patmon, who played in the team’s first three games as a true freshman last season but did not see the field again until the bowl game. Patmon is expected to be a key contributor for the Cougars in the future, but was not ultimately ready to make an impact as a first-year player.
Under the new rule the Cougars would have been able to get a look at Patmon in game settings without burning a year of eligibililty in a season in which he only caught two passes.
The NCAA’s Division I Football Competition Committee is expected to discuss the proposal during its meeting on Tuesday, May 16. The committee can then forward the proposal to the Oversight Committee, which formally sponsors legislation to be considered by the NCAA.
The early read is that athletic directors and coaches strongly favor the proposal.
“I think it would be very good,” Leach said. “A lot of guys would get a fifth year and that helps academics, it helps football, it helps (Academic Progress Rate). It helps everything.”