COLUMBUS, Ohio — Urban Meyer may not care for placing redshirts on his players, and he hasn’t been a huge fan of many recent college football rules changes.
Combine those two things, though, and the Ohio State coach might just approve of them both.
A proposal with overwhelming support has emerged at the NCAA convention that would allow players who participate in a maximum of four games the ability to retain their redshirts, thus preserving a year of eligibility. The issue has to be voted on by the NCAA Division I Council in April, but it’s hard to imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to pass it.
This measure would absolutely be a win for all parties. And from an Ohio State perspective, it could open up a whole new world of possibilities — even for a coach who goes into every season trying to avoid using redshirts at all.
If there is truly no substitute for game experience, the chance to get untested freshmen some work in roughly one-third of the regular season without sacrificing a full year of eligibility would be invaluable. And the Buckeyes would almost certainly utilize that opportunity with every player healthy enough to compete, particularly since it already makes an effort to get them all on the field right away.
The decorated signing class of 2017 had only six signees use a redshirt this past season. There is almost no chance that Tate Martell, for example, wouldn’t have seen some snaps if Ohio State could’ve given him a test run without it costing an entire season of eligibility. By the end of the season, the Buckeyes were already weighing the risks and rewards of taking the redshirt off anyway. That wouldn’t have even been a debate by late November if this rule had been in place last year.
And this isn’t just about the coaches. Few recruits sign with the intention of sitting on the sideline for an entire season. The shot to show what they can do, even for just a handful of snaps, would surely be a nice reward for all the hard work that comes with that difficult first year in the program.
Want to spice up a bowl season that has been rendered almost meaningless by the College Football Playoff? Wait until teams get the opportunity to use those games to prepare for the future by unleashing the entire roster, perhaps showing off touted recruits who hadn’t yet had an opportunity to get any action.
Maybe that particular aspect wouldn’t impact the Buckeyes that much since they have become an annual staple in the playoff, which isn’t an ideal proving ground for redshirts. And when the Buckeyes have missed out on the playoff, they still have found themselves in premier matchups just outside of the four-team field against elite opponents, such as Pac-12 champion USC in the Cotton Bowl. But, again, maybe that maturation of Martell could have produced a new wrinkle for the attack and a cameo for one of the quarterbacks of the future?
It’s important to remember why Meyer leaves redshirts as a last resort at Ohio State (which is why he would love this change). He wants every scholarship player prepared every week as if he’s going to play, and designating redshirts at any point during the year could potentially dull the edge or practice habits of somebody who knows there won’t be any pressure to perform on Saturday. Meyer also doesn’t want to waste an ounce of production from his players, and redshirting for a year doesn’t slow down the three-year clock for NFL-caliber athletes to declare for the draft. And while that is a rarity, when it does happen with somebody such as linebacker Darron Lee or safety Malik Hooker, it effectively makes that year on the sideline even more wasteful.
But this rule change would solve that. Players would have to be locked in every day on the practice field, knowing their numbers could be called at any point. The coaching staff gets real, live game reps to evaluate guys who need that experience. The process for clearing up medical redshirts for veteran players could become much easier as well, since that four-game limit would obviously apply to more than just freshmen. And as a bonus, maybe the postseason can receive a jolt of life outside the College Football Playoff.
So bring on a rule change and some redshirts.
This time, Meyer can surely get behind both of them.