No sooner did Jake Ryan tear his ACL, Michigan football fans wondered if the star linebacker could obtain a medical redshirt for the 2013 campaign, making him eligible through 2015.
Ryan, who had surgery March 28, will miss all or most of the coming season.
He was Michigan's leading tackler in 2012 with 88 tackles, and he also chipped in 12 TFLs and 4.5 sacks.
Should he miss the the 2013 season he could apply for a sixth year, but chances of success according to the NCAA rulebook are very slim.
When Ryan never played a single down in the 2010 season, he was automatically redshirted.
Players often redshirt their freshman season to get acclimated to school, build strength and learn the playbook.
It's an advantage for coaches, since the player will be a year older and hopefully a better football player when their fifth-year senior season occurs.
It becomes a disadvantage if a player—as in Ryan's case—suffers a catastrophic injury after his initial redshirt season. According to NCAA rules, a player is not eligible for a sixth year unless his original redshirt year is due to an injury (often called medical redshirts or medical hardships).
Here's a brief explanation:
The NCAA operates with a “Five-year rule” which simply declares a player must complete four playing seasons in five years.
The 2012-13 NCAA Division I Manual states:
14.2.1 Five-year rule. A student-athlete shall complete his or her seasons of participation within five calendar years from the beginning of the semester or quarter in which the student-athlete first registered for a minimum full-time program of studies in a collegiate institution, with time spent in the armed services, on official religious missions or with recognized foreign aid services of the U.S. government being excepted... (Revised: 4/2/10)
The NCAA can waive the five-year rule and grant a sixth year, providing neither situation is beyond the control of the player. In Ryan's case, his freshman redshirt year was a circumstance within control.
188.8.131.52.1 Waiver Criteria. A waiver of the five-year period of eligibility is designed to provide a student-athlete with the opportunity to participate in four seasons of intercollegiate competition within a five-year period. This waiver may be granted, based upon objective evidence, for reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution, which deprive the student-athlete of the opportunity to participate for more than one season in his/her sport within the five-year period.
184.108.40.206.1.1 Circumstances Beyond Control. Circumstances considered to be beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution and do not cause a participation opportunity to be used shall include, but are not limited to, the following: (Adopted: 8/10/94, Revised: 10/12/95, 7/30/10)
(a) Situations clearly supported by contemporaneous medical documentation, which states that a student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate competition as a result of incapacitating physical or mental circumstances;
220.127.116.11.1.2 Circumstances Within Control.
d) Redshirt year;
For instance, Houston quarterback Case Keenum enrolled in 2006 and was in a similar situation to Ryan's.
Keenum redshirted his freshman year, played in 2007, 2008 and 2009 before tearing an ACL in the third game of the 2010 season.
In order to receive a sixth year, Houston officials had to prove that Keenum's freshman-year redshirt was due to an injury. Keenum won the appeal and went on to win his second Sammy Baugh Trophy, emblematic of college football's top passer.
The question here is whether or not Michigan can "discover" documentation that Ryan was injured during his first season.
Even if Michigan decides against going that route, the loss of the sixth year won't hurt. Ryan will likely be a first-round draft choice after the 2014 season. Before his recent injury, he was expected to be one of the Big Ten's top linebackers in addition to becoming an All-American.
Based on the NCAA rule, players like Devin Gardner, Blake Countess and Chris Wormley would be eligible for a sixth season. Let's hope the subject never arises.