How will NCAA’s new redshirt rule affect USC football?

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

The NCAA changed rules around redshirting, allowing players to participate in up to four games in a season without using up that year of eligibility. What does that mean for USC football?

Major changes to the NCAA rule book came down on Wednesday, including an adjustment to the redshirt rule.

Starting in 2018, players who participate in no more than four games in a season will still be eligible to take a redshirt.

The old redshirt rule disqualified any player who saw the field for even one play to take a redshirt. A memorable example of that was the case of Oluwole Betiku, whose redshirt was burned in 2016 after getting in the game against Notre Dame. Though he went on to see extremely limited action in five games that season, under new rules, the Trojans would have needed to sit in him in just one of those later season games to preserve his year of eligibility.

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Exceptions under the old rules for a medical redshirt will also be practically affected by this change. Previously, a player who suffered a season-ending injury before playing in more than four games could be granted a medical redshirt. That worked out for the likes of Marlon Tuipulotu in 2017, who played in three games before being sidelined by a back injury.

However, the exception only applied to games played before the midway point of the season. It didn’t work out so well for wide receiver Randal Grimes, who played three games in October before a broken hand took him out of the lineup. He was unable to take a medical redshirt because of the timing of those games. Under new rules, he would have been granted an extra year of eligibility.

Unfortunately, the redshirt rules don’t apply retroactively, so there’s no getting that eligibility for Grimes back, but the rule change could have big implications in 2018.

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Coaches can now deploy players, freshmen in particular, in strategic ways in the middle and at the end of the season. If injuries thin out a particular position, the calculation for “burning a redshirt” won’t carry the same weight. A player could be inserted for four games while an established contributor sat out on a short injury layoff.

The rule also opens the door for a sort of redshirt revolution during the final four games of the season. All players on the path to redshirt will now be eligible to participate in bowl games without penalty.

Here’s a hypothetical: If USC were in a less-than-prestigious bowl game and Cameron Smith opted to sit out to protect himself from injury, the Trojans could give a redshirting Palaie Gaoteote valuable experience in live play at middle linebacker without taking a year of eligibility off the table.

Looking back at last season, could USC have made use of a redshirting player like Jay Tufele to help with defensive line depth at the end of the season? Undoubtedly.

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It’s a certainty there would have been less drama over quarterback depth after the departure of Max Browne in the lead up to the Cotton Bowl. The fear of needing to burn Jack Sears’ redshirt in the final game of the season in case of an injury catastrophe wouldn’t have been in play.

The extent to which USC will take advantage of the new redshirt rule in 2018 will be interesting to track. With the No. 4 recruiting class in the country, there will be plenty of talent to take advantage of as opportunities open up.