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James Franklin thinks a proposed NCAA rule change on redshirting could help Penn State

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
  • PSU head football coach James Franklin is a big supporter of a proposed change to the redshirt rule.
  • The proposal would allow players to participate in any four games without losing a redshirt season.
  • In April, the NCAA Division I Council is expected to vote on the change.

Sixteen years ago, Maryland's staff, including then-assistant James Franklin, had a decision to make: Burn a freshman's redshirt in November due to injuries, or risk losing out on an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

Penn State head coach James Franklin is a big supporter of a proposed change to the redshirt rule. AP FILE PHOTO

The Terrapins went with the former, and it worked. Kind of. Maryland won its conference title and earned a trip to the Orange Bowl, but future NFL starter Domonique Foxworth lost a year of eligibility while playing in only three games.

"I don't know if that's necessarily right or fair for that kid," Franklin said after practice last week. "But it was the right thing for our program."

Franklin doesn't want to have to make a similar decision at Penn State, and it's looking like he might not have to.

Proposed rule: The ACC submitted a proposal allowing all players to participate in any four games in a season without losing a redshirt. In April, the NCAA Division I Council — made up of athletic directors, administrators and student-athletes — will vote on the change, and if approved, it could go into effect as early as the 2018 season.

Todd Berry — the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association — told USA Today in January that support for the proposal is "unanimous" among college coaches.

Count Franklin in that group.

"I think it's a really good idea," the Penn State coach said. "It's something we've been talking about a long time as coaches and trying to get done."

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Current rule: As the rule currently stands, if a player logs one play, they sacrifice a precious year of eligibility.

Of course, there's a way to get around it.

"Here's the issue," Franklin said. "You can play three games right now and redshirt if you have an injury. I think there is concern a little bit that people feel like some people are playing almost everybody the first three games and then they are getting injuries and end up (medical) redshirting.

"So rather than getting into all that mess, let's just allow everybody to be able to play four games."

The proposal would help programs in three specific areas: early-season development, short-term injury relief and bowl game intrigue.

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How it could've helped PSU last season: Last season, Penn State played three true freshmen: defensive backs Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields and pass-rusher Yetur Gross-Matos. That's it. Meanwhile, 18 promising prospects rode the pine. Some weren't ready; others could have gained valuable experience in garbage time.

Jonathan Sutherland, who's battling for a starting spot at safety this spring, could have logged snaps in Penn State's season-opening win over Akron. Ellis Brooks, a candidate to replace Jason Cabinda at middle linebacker, could have tried his hand in the Nittany Lions' 56-0 demolition of Georgia State.

"You play the first three games to see who can actually do it," Franklin said of how the rule could be implemented. "Then pull the guys back that aren't ready and allow the guys that are to continue playing during the season."

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Injuries and postseason: As for short-term injuries, Foxworth would not have burned a year of eligibility. In Penn State's case, offensive lineman Will Fries — who redshirted in 2016 — could have stepped in and played a game or two while the Nittany Lions figured out their fluid injury situation.

And in the postseason — in a time now where more and more high-profile draft prospects sit out non-College Football Playoff bowl games — why not let the younger players get some run? Why not let fans see the talented freshmen they've followed since high school?

When the NCAA Division I Council votes on the matter this month, coaches hope the members recognize those benefits.

"I think it makes a lot of sense," Franklin said, "from a lot of different perspectives."