The NCAA announced today that, starting in the 2018 season, Division I football players can appear in up to four games without losing a season of eligibility.
Players will still have five years in which to play four seasons of football. The change alters the long-standing redshirt rule, under which any game appearance at any point during the season would result in the season counting against the player’s four years of eligibility.
Unfortunately, the rule will not apply retroactively: players who appeared in four games or fewer in any season up to now will still have their eligibility governed by the old rules.
That hurts Virginia Cavaliers quarterback Lindell Stone. The true freshman appeared in only the Boston College game in 2017, playing four series in relief of starter Kurt Benkert. If the new rule change took retroactive effect, that game would not take a year off Stone’s eligibility at UVA.
There are three main benefits to the rule for future seasons.
First, and most obvious, is that young players can get game experience in blowouts or games against lesser competition. Bronco Mendenhall has occasionally referred to non-conference play as being akin to preseason, with the ACC schedule considered the “regular season.” This rule change lets him test his depth chart during that “preseason” play and better prepare for ACC play.
The second benefit is reducing the effect of early-season injuries. A starter who goes down for the season after playing three or four games would be able to use an automatic redshirt (assuming they had not used a redshirt year already) without having to apply for a medical hardship waiver. Germane Crowell was in this position last year: a true freshman, he appeared in three of the Hoos’ first four games before a season-ending injury. But—like Stone—Crowell won’t get the benefit of the new rule.
And third, the new rule allows for increased depth during bowl season. With more and more NFL prospects choosing to sit out bowl games, coaches were getting stuck in a jam between fielding a thinner team and burning a kid’s redshirt. Instead of young players just getting the benefit of bowl practices, they can now actually play in an otherwise meaningless game.