The Alumni Rule: What if it Really Existed for USC Football?


Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While Marqise Lee did Marqise Lee things and Cody Kessler looked like a stout quarterback during Saturday’s spring game, head coach Lane Kiffin named Jeremy Galten the Trojans’ MVP. Yes, the same Galten that was least seen at last month’s Pro Day, trying to find a way to impress NFL scouts.

Galten was able to suit up for the Trojans in the spring game due to an alumni rule from the NCAA that “allows former players to practice sporadically,” as was tweeted out by USC before the game. It’s not entirely new, as the rule was put into play earlier this year, when Cal put pads on Marshawn Lynch at the Bears’ spring game.

But imagine for a second that the rule existed in a more extended form. What if the almuni rule enabled players to play a fifth or sixth year that could be used at the discretion of a head coach, and wouldn’t necessarily have to take place immediately following a player’s original tenure in college?

You could liken it to soccer in the Olympics, where nations play with their Under-23 squads, while being permitted three senior players at the discretion of the manager.

To make it more realistic, consider that players would need to go cold turkey in terms of professional football, and would have to cut ties with an agent to participate. After all, they would be college football players, and by default would not be your prototypical ‘star players’, since those guys would be busy seeking out and earning professional contracts. At least in theory.

Alumni players would consist of guys who had key injuries that derailed their college careers, some who felt like they needed another full year of scoutable film for the NFL, and others who struggle with giving up the game of football altogether.

For coaches, these players would have to be stop-gaps that could fill in for one season and aid a weak spot in roster.

The idea of players playing college football long after their college days isn’t new, as it was the basis for the now defunct All-American Football League, which folded before ever playing a game. Ironically enough, USC wide receivers coach Tee Martin was even a part of the league’s marketing campaign before ultimately deciding not to take part.

So imagine for a second that USC could have three alums on their roster, solely at the discretion of the coaching staff.

What strategy would Kiffin and company deploy? Who would realistically be interested in giving college football another go while forgoing a year of getting back into the NFL? Who would these ‘alumni players’ potentially be?

First off, you would have to take a look at the Trojans’ weaknesses at the moment, and there’s a few of them. USC is exceedingly thin at cornerback due to spring camp injuries, and they break in new starters as the team’s center, long snapper and punter.

Realistically speaking, if alumni players were to be manageable, they likely would be play a role in special teams, as kickers and punters lacking the prospects of an NFL career, helping a school recruit and recoup.

The Trojans didn’t punt at all during the spring game and are slated to break in redshirt sophomore Kris Albarado come the fall. If Kiffin and special teams coordinator John Baxter had the option, alums like Tom Malone and Kyle Negrete would be enticing.

Since announcing to the world that he wouldn’t be leaving USC early to declare for the 2005 NFL Draft, Malone has struggled to catch on the NFL, and Negrete’s pro prospects don’t seem nearly as promising as Malone’s once were.

As for the thinness at cornerback, USC played the spring game without a slew of players in the secondary, including returning corner and soon-to-be-senior, Torin Harris.

If permissible, how much better would Lane Kiffin and Clancy Pendergast feel about the defense if they were able to add another Harris to the mix: alum Cary Harris.

The former Trojan corner hasn’t suited up for an NFL game since 2010, and hasn’t seen a roster since 2011. With NFL prospects diminishing, you would have to imagine that playing a pay-free year at the college level would have its advantages for the 26-year-old in terms of exposure.

For USC, adding another experienced corner to the mix would go a long way to alleviate depth issues within an already raw unit that sees Josh Shaw likely being forced from safety to corner.

And then consider the Abe Markowitz storyline from December. Markowitz seeks a sixth year of eligibility, but due to roster limitations, the Trojans have said they could only take the offensive lineman back as a walk-on, who, unfortunately for USC, are not allowed to be granted sixth years.

Under the hypothetical alumni rule, that power would be in the hands of Lane Kiffin, who would be able to give Markowitz the sixth year he desires, at the school he wants to play at.

As a whole, the alumni rule is utopian. It’s ideal is for players and coaches who have needs and motivations for an extra year of eligibility, but it would question what it is to be a ‘student athlete’, a moniker we find ourselves questioning for thousands of scandalous ways.

The alumni rule wouldn’t keep Matt Barkley in cardinal and gold or give college football fans an alternative discourse for the NFL. It would simply act in the manner of hardship waivers and medical redshirts, while keeping both competition and vocation at the forefront, paralleling the underlying function of NCAA football.