Changed redshirt rules excite Clay Helton, will benefit USC football in 2018

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

The NCAA’s change to the redshirt rule was the talk of Pac-12 Media Day with Clay Helton expressing excitement over all the possible applications.

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This June, the NCAA decided to change rules regarding redshirts and Pac-12 coaches had a field day answering questions about the shift at Pac-12 Media Day.

The new rule allows players to participate in up to four games before losing their redshirt eligibility. Those four games aren’t tethered by timing. They could be at the beginning of the season, the end or anywhere in between.

It’s a potential game changer for college football—if coaches take advantage. Clay Helton is eager to do so.

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“I love the new rule. I absolutely love it,” Helton said.

The advantages are many in Helton’s head. First and foremost, it will give the Trojans flexibility when it comes to injuries and squad depth.

“I’m just so glad when you get to November, if all of the sudden you have some injuries and that kid’s ready to go play, a Porter [Gustin] or a Cam [Smith] doesn’t have to play 80 plays because you don’t have a backup and you’re trying to save a kid’s redshirt year.”

But he said it could also work the other way, with players no longer needing to worry about seeing limited snaps in a game, wasting away their eligibility.

He can already see the possibilities for in-game development of young players without the risk, should USC get far enough ahead in games to clear the benches. Helton thinks that will lead to more game-ready players in Year 2.

The details will need to be worked out, of course. The head coach stressed decisions will still be made on a case-by-case basis, as they have always been.

From the coaching perspective, there will be some other wrinkles to wrestle with.

“I think that coaches are going to have to make a decision whether to use it early or late depending on where a kid is at in his progression and depending where the health of your football team is,” Helton said.

However it plays out, the Trojans seem willing to make use of the rule.

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The rest of the coaches in the Pac-12 are on board to varying degrees.

Stanford’s David Shaw laid out three ways the rule could benefit teams and players, his thinking along the same lines as Helton.

The first is for players who excite early and see the field right away, only for coaches to realize perhaps the player isn’t quite ready for the college level. Those players could now be taken out of the firing line without issue.

The second relates to injuries, with a veteran out for a stretch, but slated to return. A redshirting player could be called up for a few games to fill in until the veteran returns without losing his eligibility for the year.

The final scenario involves players who need some time to settle into college life, but have proven themselves to coaches by the end of the year. Those players will no longer have to wait for the next year. They could contribute as soon as they’re ready.

Cal’s Justin Wilcox, Washington’s Chris Petersen and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham also offered their commentary focusing on depth chart changes, injuries and individual readiness which could prompt redshirting players to see the field.

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Oregon’s Mario Cristobal echoed those sentiments but added some caution about playing time still needing to be earned as well as other considerations for the future.

“It does create a roster management issue because your roster contained guys that maybe you planned on being there four years, now they’re there five years,” Cristobal said. “It’s our versionof the salary cap.”

Helton sees a scenario where sixth-year players become more common as more players are able to redshirt. It would take just one season-ending injury to open the door for a sixth year, rather than two.

True to form, Washington State’s Mike Leach took it further, hopeful of this rule change shifting college football that much closer to instituting a five-year eligibility rule without the redshirt entirely.