If Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher had his way, football players would have five years of standard eligibility instead of four with the option to redshirt.
Speaking with Dan Wolken of USA Today, Fisher says giving players an extra year of eligibility serves two purposes. For one, it allows younger players who may not be ready to play at the beginning of the year more time to develop. It could also take some of the pressure off of veteran players who are banged up by season's end.
Here's Fisher's rationale:
(A freshman) isn't ready at the beginning of the year, but you have to make that decision (to redshirt) by Game 5 or 6. Maybe by games eight, nine or 10 he's developed himself to go in there and give you 10, 12, 14 plays a game.
At the end of that season when those freshmen are ready to play and can help you on special teams or get 10 reps a game, it takes the pressure off a guy who's banged up and bruised up. The longer you go in these seasons, the more you have to look at those things as a health issue.
The problem with redshirting a freshman is that once it is burned—almost always out of necessity—there's no way to get it back. Thus, he essentially loses that extra year of eligibility, barring, say, a medical redshirt for an injury.
Giving an extra year of eligibility would give coaches greater flexibility to ease players into the college game. As John Infante of athleticscholarships.net tweets, Fisher's idea likely means the elimination of the redshirt altogether.
In other words, it's as simple as players getting five years to complete five seasons of eligibility:
The NCAA recently decided to do away with hardship waivers anyway.
Infante goes on to ponder that, if five years of eligibility are on the table, why aren't six? Traditionally, Infante writes, "the rationale was that students generally take about five years to graduate and academic eligibility rules are based on a five-year graduation path, so athletes should be able to compete for five years."
But since the five-year clock rule for graduation is liberally enforced, six years of competition could be an intriguing possibility. Infante explains:
There are two ways to do a sixth season of competition. Both would give all athletes five seasons of competition. One option might be to make a sixth season of eligibility a reward for graduating within five years. Then athletes can stay (or transfer) and start a graduate degree (or possibly a second undergraduate program). The other option would be to simply give all athletes six seasons of competition. Academic eligibility requirements would not change, aside from maybe giving the athlete more flexibility in the sixth year if he or she has not graduated yet.
The most immediate benefit for either five or six years of competition would presumably be better depth. First-year players who are ready to compete right away will still be able to, while others who need more time will naturally fall into reserve roles on the depth chart. Coaches can rotate players as they see fit throughout the season without worrying about burning a redshirt.
By season's end, two-deep players have taken fewer reps and developmental players have some experience under their belt. With so much concern over player safety, the fewer reps a player can take per year, the better.
It brings to mind what the NFL may be facing if it ever goes to an 18-game schedule. The NFL Players Association would, in all likelihood, demand an expansion to the 53-man roster while receiving a larger portion of the league's revenue pot. That's another discussion for another day about another topic, but it all comes down to the number of snaps a player can realistically take in a year.
However, because the 85-scholarship cap would remain in place, fewer athletes would pass through Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision schools. There are also Title IX questions if this were to be proposed as a football-only idea.
Additionally, don't expect there to be changes to transfer policies as a direct result of adding a year of eligibility. Schools would probably still have say over permission-to-contact and/or receiving a grant-in-aid, even if a football player is on his fifth or sixth year looking to pursue a graduate program elsewhere.
However, an athlete with six years of eligibility may be able to pursue degree plans they might not otherwise have been able to fit in four or five years because of concerns over time consumption.
There are pros and cons to every idea, but granting athletes another year or two of eligibility has a lot of upside to it.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.