I’m going to keep this short and sweet. It’s June. The college football season will get here soon enough. This is the month for all of us to get our batteries recharged.
But the world of college football changed yesterday. And it was a pretty damned big change. There wasn’t a big press conference. Still, the two new rules announced on Wednesday are powerful–both practically and symbolically.
One rule allows student-athletes to play as many as four games and still not lose an entire year of eligibility. The practical application of this rule means that coaches won’t burn an entire year of eligibility for a kid who only gets onto the field a few times. Example: In 2016 an injury to quarterback Chad Kelly put Ole Miss in the situation of having to play freshman Shea Patterson in the final three games. Now everybody signed off on it but just playing in those three games (1 win, 2 losses) cost Patterson an entire year. Now it would not.
Now coaches, as they always do, will burn the midnight oil figuring out how to use players to their maximum advantage. That’s okay. You have 85 guys on scholarship. Why not use them all at some point in the season? Of course, if I was the college football czar I just would give everybody five years of eligibility with no red-shirts. But that is another topic for another day.
The second rule change is one of the most powerful in the recent history of the game because it changes the very dynamic of the student-athlete and the institution for which he plays. The old rule said that in order for a player to transfer, he must first “ask” for permission and then be subject to restrictions on where he could go. That rule gave all of the power to the institution and the coaches. And in many cases they were not shy about using it.
The new rule says that, starting Oct. 15, any player wishing to transfer will simply “inform” the institution of his intention. The school MUST put that player’s name on a database for all the world–meaning other schools–to see. And those other schools may contact that player to inquire about his interest in attending that school.
I can’t overstate how big of a sea-change this is for college athlete. He now has control of his future. Sometimes that will be good. Sometimes it will be bad. Some young men will make bad decisions when they transfer. But it will be THEIR decision, not that of an institution and its $150 million athletics corporation.
Now understand two things: An undergraduate transfer, per NCAA rules, will still have to sit out for a year unless there are extenuating circumstances. And conferences can also make their own rules about transferring within the league. I don’t think conferences will do that. Here’s why:
It has become clear to all of us who work in the sport that we have reached a critical mass when it comes to the rights and freedoms for players. As I wrote in late May, the money that is being generated by college football is now way beyond anything we could have imagined.
Players are not going to get paid a salary to play football by the school. But if the powers that be in the game are smart, they should be actively seeking more ways to give the players both resources and freedom.
That’s what these two rules announced yesterday are all about. They don’t put any more money into the pockets of the student-athletes, but they do give the players more freedom and more power over their lives and athletic careers.
And that’s a good start.