KOLPACK: Potential new redshirt rule on path for NCAA approval

FARGO — It’s certainly in the top five of the most-often asked questions of North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman every August: Which true freshmen have the best chance of playing right away?
The way things are going in the NCAA boardrooms this offseason, the answer may be simple.
All of them.
At least for four games.
A proposed rule that is expected to go before the Division I Management Council this spring will allow true freshmen to play up to four games — any four games — and not lose their redshirt status. It’s already gotten the thumbs-up from the American Football Coaches Association and will move on to the Division I Football Oversight Committee.
I’m no guru on NCAA legislation structure, but once it gets through those hurdles it pretty much is a slam dunk by the time the final vote is taken. Count NDSU as a school that seems to like the idea.
“A big part of me is in favor of it,” said NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen.
One reason, Larsen said, is the nature of true freshmen. Most are not ready to play at the Division I FCS level and probably won’t anyway. The kid coming out of high school still needs to be physically mature enough and mentally astute enough to handle the offense or defense.
“It’s still going to come down to needs and who’s ready,” Larsen said.
NDSU could have used the rule this year with running back Seth Wilson. With injuries depleting their backfield, the Bison lifted the redshirt on Wilson in the eighth game of the year against Northern Iowa. Here’s the trick: How could the Bison have kept the number of Wilson’s games played to four?
He was in on two plays against UNI, so that could have been more of a practice week with the first team offense. They could have played him against South Dakota State the following week and then put him on an at-need basis in the last two regular season games against South Dakota and Illinois State.
When do you pull the trigger?
With Ty Brooks and Bruce Anderson doing the damage, they could have held him out of both with the FCS playoffs looming. There was virtually little chance the Bison were going to drop the second round game to the University of San Diego, so Wilson could have stayed on the bench. That left potentially three playoff games remaining.
And, with Wilson, three games without losing his redshirt.
“As the year goes on, those true freshmen at Week 8 or Week 9 or Week 10 are starting to pick up some things,” Larsen said. “They’ve been in the weight room a little bit and in a lot of ways I think can help the program.”
So, really for NDSU, you’re talking about a few isolated cases where the rule would apply. And in the physical Missouri Valley Football Conference where maturity is paramount, that would probably also be the case. If your season is dependent on true freshmen for you to be successful, then you’re probably not going to be successful.
League commissioner Patty Viverito said she wants to wait until after the league meeting on Feb. 19 before discussing her feelings publically.
“I don’t want to get ahead of our membership on this matter,” she said.
The positives seem to outweigh the negatives by a good margin.
The rule would allow teams to let true freshmen truly compete for a job right away instead of just in practice. Insert them into the lineup the first three games before conference play and see if they can do the job.
Moreover, it takes the pressure off a coaching staff of asking a player to burn a redshirt year for a few games. It takes the pressure off the parents who are involved in that decision.
“It’s interesting, you look at the redshirt rule and it hasn’t been revisited in a long, long time and maybe this is the right time to look at it,” Larsen said.