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May 24, 2008
Roundtable: Thoughts on a fifth year
At the College Football Roundtable, we ask each of our national writers for their opinion on a topic from the past week.
TODAY'S QUESTION: At last week's College Football Summit, coaches and athletic directors broached the subject of players receiving an automatic fifth season of eligibility. Your thoughts on a fifth year?
College football is without a doubt my favorite sport, but the game asks for more breaks than any other.
A few years ago, many coaches were against the idea of identifying players who committed penalties. Never mind that men and women basketball players charged with fouls were identified, as were softball and baseball players who committed errors.
Many coaches and administrators are against a playoff in Division I-A even though every other sport – and every other division of football – has a playoff format. I saw a quote from a coach that the current bowl system allows 32 winners at the end of the season rather than one. Hey, everyone's a winner – just like T-ball.
And now football needs five years of automatic eligibility even though 85 scholarships conceivably allows teams to be almost four deep at every position. If injuries and demanding practices are taking a toll, don't redshirt as many freshmen, ease up on contact in practice or play a few walk-ons if need be.
But I do think the NCAA should be more cooperative about awarding extra years of eligibility for players that have had issues that have compromised their careers. For example, why refuse to award an additional season to Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk, who was forced by his coach to sit out a redshirt season at Wake Forest and played just one game in another season before being injured?
This is a no-brainer. My question: What's the hold up?
Coaches I talk to say this was supposed to happen when schedules were increased from 11 to 12 games a few years ago. Obviously, it hasn't. Shameful.
If coaches are going to be asked to play up to 14 games in a season in some instances, then they need to have full use of their already truncated rosters without fear of burning someone's redshirt late in the year.
And staying in school longer as the result of playing football will enhance the chance for players to graduate, right? That has to make NCAA honcho Myles Brand and the mortarboard crowd smile.
One negative issue: What if a coach doesn't want a player who may not be, ahem, good around for a fifth year taking up a scholarship?
If playing on the special teams helps to keep freshmen out of trouble, I'm all for it. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe hopes his proposal will eliminate the "redshirt blues." As redshirting players practice with no hope of playing, they feel disenfranchised from the team. There are stories every year where a player uses his idle time unwisely, whether that means missing class or running afoul of the law or simply being a bad teammate.
At the same time, more and more of the regular student body is taking five years to graduate. Shouldn't the rules that govern student-athletes reflect that? Texas Tech coach Mike Leach says a fifth year might help graduation rates. I would agree.
If playing on the kickoff team without the penalty of losing a year keeps players occupied in something positive and improves academic performance, then it's time for administrators, coaches and conferences to take a second look.
It's not needed, for a couple of reasons.
First, how can you give five years of eligibility to football players and not other athletes? Yeah, that will fly with basketball coaches and baseball coaches and soccer coaches and … well, you get the idea.
Second, numerous players are in school for five years already, redshirting along the way. They generally redshirt for two reasons – they're not ready to play or they're injured. Mighty rare would be a player good enough to play as a freshman who would stick around for five years.
Third, what about the players a coach wouldn't want around for five years? Every school has players who, essentially, take up scholarships without providing any value in return. What school wants those guys around for five years? Coaches get tons of heat now when they run off players. The number of players who would be run off would increase with five years of eligibility.
Fourth, coaches and administrators talk about how a fifth year of eligibility would increase graduation rates. If you believe that, I have some Enron stock I can sell you. Here's the bottom line about student-athletes: Those who are serious about graduating will do so; those who aren't won't - even if you give them 10 years.
There is one aspect that would make this interesting: Watching coaches juggle the recruiting numbers if players had five years of eligibility. The scholarship limit of 85 wouldn't change, but recruiting methods would have to.
Abandoning the redshirt system and giving college football players an automatic fifth year of eligibility certainly seems like a good idea on the surface. Proponents of the idea have pointed out that it should improve graduation rates, since NCAA stats show that college football players take an average of 4.7 years to earn their degrees.
Coaches also have noted that players who know they're going to get redshirted often lose interest over the course of a season. That shouldn't be a problem under the proposed system.
My biggest complaint with the proposal is that if you're going to allow five years of eligibility in football, you'd better do it for all the other sports, too. Football shouldn't get special treatment in this case. And if you're going to institute such a sweeping change across an entire athletic department, I'm guessing it's going to take a while to come to fruition. So while granting five years of eligibility seems like a good idea, don't expect it to happen anytime soon.