MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The NCAA enacted two player-friendly rule changes Wednesday. One allows football players to participate in four games without compromising their redshirt season. (Coaches like this.) The other frees up athletes to transfer to whatever school they choose without needing permission from the school they depart. (Coaches like this less.)
Relaxing the redshirt criteria takes effect this upcoming season and should have the biggest impact on nonconference blowouts and lower-tier bowl games. The Heart of Dallas Bowl last December might have been more compelling (maybe) had coaches freely experimented with young players who would not lose a year’s eligibility.
It also can help in depth-challenged scenarios, such as West Virginia’s Martell Pettaway being forced into action during Week 11 of the 2016 season. He was a true freshman headed for a redshirt until injuries befell the team’s top three running backs. Pettaway subsequently appeared in the final three games and made 49 carries.
West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson told MetroNews the rule also could incentivize players to rehab offseason injuries knowing they could participate in important late-season games. While Gibson didn’t specifically address any of the Mountaineers’ injured players, the timetable could fit linebackers Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns as they return from knee injuries sustained in spring.
The new flexibility also could curb the practice of schools fudging diagnoses required to retroactively seek medical redshirts.
Such a widely popular move makes it hard to understand why the measure languished for so long. Current American Football Coaches Association executive director Todd Berry first pitched the proposal 17 years ago.
“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,” said Miami athletics director Blake James, who chairs the council. “Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition.”
The transfer rule opens new avenues for on-the-move players, removing the permission-to-contact phase. No longer should a program like Kansas State prohibit outgoing receiver Corey Sutton from contacting 35 schools — about one-quarter of the FBS.
However, conferences such as the Big 12 may enact more restrictive measures that prevent, for instance, a Texas Tech quarterback from transferring to Oklahoma. (The stench of pettiness from the Baker Mayfield situation still lingers in Lubbock.)
Here’s guessing that leagues will fall in step with the national guideline. Even the dog-eat-dog SEC recently opted to allow grad transfers to move about within the conference.
Presumably, down-the-line nonconference foes would no longer be off-limits. When nose guard Lamonte McDougle left WVU this spring, the program blocked him from transferring to any scheduled opponent through 2021 (a list that includes Tennessee, N.C. State, Florida State, Missouri, Maryland and Virginia Tech, along with four FCS programs). That was considered a standard release.
While this new measure still requires that undergrad transfers sit out one year, there’s at least some increased transparency.
Beginning in October, a school with an athlete intending to transfer must submit the athlete’s name to a national database within two business days. That prompts competing coaches to begin contacting the transfer.
What did the NCAA get wrong about the transfer change? Making tampering only a Level II violation.
Tampering represents a “significant breach of conduct” though, in my opinion, it clearly rises to a Level I violation defined as “severe.” If an outside school begins enticing a transfer before the player becomes available, it feels more adulterous than providing benefits during the wide-open high school.
As another coach told me, “That’s flat-out cheating.”
Coaches are rightfully ticked about players fleeing at the first hint of stress, but then, there are always free agents knocking at the door having fled from someplace else. Call it even-steven. And call the NCAA’s latest changes fair-minded and reasonable — two descriptions that typically aren’t the agency’s hallmarks.