Colonial Athletic Association heads movement to give FCS players an extra year

Colonial Athletic Association heads movement to give FCS players an extra year

July 13th, 2011 by John Frierson in Sports - College

In this file photo, Head Coach Russ Huesman watches from the sidelines at the UTC Moccasins 2011 Blue & Gold Spring Game. Huesman is in favor of adding a fifth year of eligibility for football players.

Photo by Robin Rudd/Times Free Press.

The Colonial Athletic Association is leading a push in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision that would give players five years of eligibility.

Following a lot of discussion at the CAA's spring meetings, the league's coaches voted unanimously to submit a proposal to the NCAA - the deadline is Friday - that would change the current rule of five years to play four seasons to giving all FCS players five seasons.

"Over the last couple of years we've talked about it a lot, and this year it finally got to the point where our coaches said let's do it and see what happens," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said. "It's worth a shot."

Ideally, Yeager said, the proposal would work its way through the NCAA committees and be approved in time for the 2012 season.

Of the nine individuals interviewed for this story - including coaches, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga officials and conference commissioners - only Mocs athletic director Rick Hart said he wasn't immediately in favor of the change.

"I just like the current system," Hart said. "With new information I might want to change my stance, but based upon what I know right now, I like the system we have."

UTC chancellor Roger Brown and coach Russ Huesman are in favor of adding the fifth year. Brown said it was "worth pursuing" and "should be given serious consideration," while Huesman was very eager to join the bandwagon.

"I'm hugely in favor of it, especially at our level," he said. "It makes sense just because of our limited numbers that we have, for us to have that ability. I don't know how it's ever going to make it [through the NCAA], but I would be in favor of it."

Teams in the FCS are allowed 63 scholarships, compared to 85 for Bowl Subdivision programs. Coaches typically try to redshirt 10-13 freshmen every year, with the idea that the players can learn and develop during the year on the practice squad while settling in as college students.

Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said freshmen who redshirt aren't necessarily better off than those who play right away.

"The guys that are playing and know they're going to be on the field on Saturday feel more of a sense of belonging with the rest of the team," Monken said. "When you're a redshirt guy and you're not dressing out and not traveling, sometimes they start to feel a little disenchanted with the whole college experience.

"A lot of those guys suffer academically their first year when they don't feel like they're really a part of this thing."

Injuries sometimes force a coach to burn a redshirt year for a freshman late in the season. Monken said he was forced to play a true freshman in the seventh and eighth games last season because of injuries.

"If you're starting with 63 scholarships and you take out redshirts and injuries, your available players are in the 40s," Yeager said. "Then as your season goes on, maybe even to the playoffs, the attrition rate gets to the point where starters are on the field more than they should be."

In the fourth game of the 2010 season, UTC traveled to Western Carolina with just four available linebackers, one of whom, J.D. Dothard, had a broken toe. Three freshman linebackers were left behind because Huesman didn't want to burn their redshirt years.

If the CAA's proposal is approved, Huesman wouldn't have to make the tough choices like that. Appalachian State coach Jerry Moore said he's been a proponent of five years of eligibility for many years.

"I think it'd be good in every aspect of the game," he said. "They're here to play, geez. I guess publicly you've got to say they're here to get an education, and they are, but also those kids have got to play, too."

Because so few football players graduate in four years, giving them a fifth year would be "cost-neutral," Yeager said.

And just because a player has the option of playing that fifth year, that doesn't mean he has to use it.

"It is not an obligation for five years," Yeager said.

To protect against schools signing one-year transfers from FBS programs, the CAA's proposal stipulates that transfers must have two years of eligibility remaining.

"I would definitely vote for it if I had a vote," UT-Martin coach Jason Simpson said. "I think it's been talked about maybe once every third year, but this may be as close as it's ever gotten where enough people are behind it."