Rare, it seems, is the NCAA rule that actually makes anyone happy. So imagine the shock Wednesday when the organization announced a new mandate that should make everyone happy.
Division I football players are now allowed to play up to four games and still qualify for a redshirt. In the past, if a freshman played just four quarters — heck, just four plays — that entire season of eligibility was toast unless there was an inury.
Wide receiver Racey McMath is among the last LSU players who will suffer as result of the old rules. McMath appeared in LSU’s first two games as a freshman, then never touched the field again.
This spring McMath grabbed the attention of teammates and coaches with how well his physical style fits into new offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger’s more spread-based offense. He’ll be playing in a lot more than two games this season — and under the new rules he’d be doing so as a freshman in eligibility rather than a sophomore.
In many cases the rule won’t necessarily matter as much for programs such as LSU. If a player is good enough to head for the NFL after three seasons, he will do so. Cornerback Greedy Williams is only a sophomore this season, but already is viewed by many as a top-10 pick in the 2019 draft.
The more important point is that it’s hard to find a loser in this ruling.
Perhaps it could hurt walk-ons, who were more likely to get on the field in November when coaches didn’t want to burn a player’s eligibility to provide injury depth. But that’s a pretty insignificant trade-off.
Kids who were supposed to sit out a full season will have a chance to play now, and therefore be more engaged in practice. Coaches will have an easier time putting the best available team on the field without completely sacrificing for a future they might not even be part of.
It also could add some intrigue as an increasing number of star players are electing to sit out “meaningless” bowl games prior to the NFL draft. Their places can now be taken by players eager to make their collegiate debuts — a far-from-meaningless experience.
The other NCAA ruling: Players win, coaches lose
The NCAA’s other new rule that was announced Wednesday may end up having a greater impact on the overall college sports landscape.
Coaches no longer will be able to block their players from transferring to specific programs — an issue that is currently facing center Brandon Kennedy. The Alabama graduate is interested in potentially attending rival Tennessee or Auburn, but has been blocked from doing so by Nick Saban.
Transfers now will be able to inform coaches of their intent, then have their names placed in an NCAA-run database.
There is still one loophole to the rule that surely will be exploited. Individual conferences are permitted to create restrictions regarding transfers, so it’s possible that the SEC or any other league could block a player from heading to a school on his current team’s upcoming schedule.