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The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia)


One can still loathe the NCAA yet love its effort to change.

This is the realm I find myself in after two recent rules changes in college football - changes that actually benefit the athletes who too often suffer at the strictures of the NCAA rule book.

Last week the NCAA announced new transfer and redshirt policies that could have a big impact on players' careers.

The more lenient transfer rule, while still limited in terms of immediacy except for graduate transfers, is basic common sense. Players no longer have to ask a coach's permission to transfer, allowing them to simply notify their current coaches of their intent to transfer and not be blocked from considering certain schools.

It's a far more favorable atmosphere for players - like Clemson defensive lineman Josh Belk recently transferring to South Carolina - to do what's best for them. As former Georgia coach Mark Richt used to say, life is far too short and the college experience far too important to prevent players from taking whatever opportunity is in their best interests. This is a big step in the right direction for all players.

It's the new redshirt policy, however, that has the greatest potential to make an enormous immediate impact on a player's career. It will be fascinating to see how coaches take advantage of it this fall and in the future.

Starting this season, Division I football players can participate in up to four games in a season without using a season of competition. Previously, if a player competed in one play, it cost them a full season of eligibility. So instead of a player getting five years to compete in up to four seasons, they'll now potentially get an extra third of a season in that same five-year window.

"This change promotes not only fairness for college athletes, but also their health and well-being," said Blake James, the Miami director of athletics and the chair for the Division I Council, when the change was announced last week. "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. Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition."

Had the rule been in place last season, Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa - who stepped in and became the hero in the second half of the national championship victory over Georgia - could still be considered a redshirt freshman in 2018.

Imagine the possibilities that Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney now have at their immediate disposal with their heralded incoming freshman classes this fall.

Both coaches could test out their talented new quarterbacks Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence in several games to let them compete with the incumbent starters. Or they can save them for a potential Tagovailoa-like fresh weapon deployment in the late stages of the season when they're competing for conference and playoff titles.

It will create a whole bevy of possibilities for using young talent throughout the lineup. Freshman can get quality looks against early-season nonconference opponents to determine whether they are ready to become roster regulars or need to hold back for more seasoning.

Or they can keep young players readily motivated to potentially step in as temporary reinforcements to depleted positions while a starter gets a little more rest to heal instead of either burning a redshirt season or making another player run the risk of playing with an injury.

Better yet, any star player who suffers an early-season injury could use any remaining redshirt option without having to undergo the often torturous task of applying for a medical waiver from the NCAA.

"That's awesome; are you kidding me?" Swinney said recently about the redshirt rule change. "The fact that you have a chance to play a kid that you do know you want to redshirt but maybe it's a home game and you get a chance to get him a little experience. Or maybe you've got a guy that's just not ready but all the sudden you have a couple injuries and by the end of the year you may have three games left and a guy can play and finish it out yet not lose a whole year of eligibility. ... I think it's great."

It is great, and it will be great fun this fall to see how schools can take advantage of the system and give fans a peek at more players who could be part of the program even longer than before.

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June 24, 2018


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