Leistikow: NCAA's new football eligibility rule a win for developmental programs like Iowa
A rule change that will simultaneously provide an immediate benefit to athletes and Division I football programs was adopted Wednesday.
For once, let's say it: Good job, NCAA.
Football players can now participate in four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility. They still can't stay for more than five years (barring exceptions, one would presume). And hopefully this, once and for all, makes medical-hardship waivers a black-and-white decision.
Bottom line, though: This ruling is an especially big win for developmental programs like Iowa's.
Now, Kirk Ferentz and his staff can make a simultaneous pitch to recruits — we’ll develop you for five years and you’ll have a good chance to play right away.
Suddenly, programs have more depth.
Suddenly, coaches have more options.
Suddenly, there's less pressure for athletes to play hurt — if a short-term stopgap is available on the bench.
If the wheels aren’t already spinning in the Iowa Football Performance Center on how to best take advantage of this new rule, they will be soon.
Perhaps the most obvious (and potentially helpful) example going into the 2018 Hawkeye season is at quarterback. Iowa has only three scholarship QBs, and one of them (Spencer Petras) is a true freshman.
The dilemma of burning Petras’ redshirt now becomes a less important factor in determining whether he or red-shirt freshman Peyton Mansell serves the 2018 season as Nate Stanley’s top backup.
Assuming Stanley stays healthy, let’s say Petras is slightly better than Mansell and wins that role — as Stanley did over Tyler Wiegers as a true freshman in 2016 — coaches will have the option to plug Petras into a handful of mop-up/blowout situations while using Mansell in others and ensuring Petras doesn't exceed four games.
If that’s the case, I would actually aim to cap Petras at three regular-season games (again, barring an injury situation) — knowing that a possible bowl game would serve as a significant development opportunity as a fourth.
Then, presto, he’s still a freshman in 2019 — while having gained valuable developmental game experience while also getting second-team practice reps.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to programs like Iowa's, though, is the increased insurance against injuries.
Take running back, for example. The Hawkeyes are thin there and are (were?) probably counting on incoming freshman Henry Geil to serve as the No. 3 or No. 4 back. Now, if Geil is good enough, Iowa coaches would have the opportunity — assuming he doesn’t leapfrog sophomores Toren Young or Ivory Kelly-Martin as the No. 1 or No. 2 guy — to work Geil (and/or Samson Evans) into a handful of games without any eligibility penalty.
Another reason Iowa would play a true freshman: for gaining experience on special teams. If Hawkeye coaches are on the fence about redshirting a guy or not, this gives them a happy solution.
Incoming safety Dallas Craddieth is a terrific test case. Here’s perhaps the most prized recruit in Iowa’s Class of 2018, but he joins a strong safety group that’s four deep and includes two fifth-year seniors (Jake Gervase and Brandon Snyder). Might there be a chance to get Craddieth’s feet wet on special teams in four selected games while getting him ready to be an emergency option as safety (as Geno Stone was a year ago)?
It’ll be interesting to see how every FBS coach manages this new luxury.
Sure, the rule change will help the high-powered programs — not just the developmental ones like Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State. They'll have the opportunity to throw out freshman ringers in big games.
But in my eyes, the programs that are getting the four- and five-star prospects are playing them full-time right away — and the best guys are often gone to the NFL early anyway.
One last thing to like about the new rule: What it'll do for bowl games ... and bowl preparations.
Let's face it: In the playoff era, bowl games pitting 7-5 or 8-4 teams carry even less meaning than before. Some coaches might start treating a December 2018 bowl as a Fall 2019 preseason game.
A less-extreme example: If there’s a talented true freshman that sat out all or most of the regular season, and he has a strong three to four weeks of bowl prep — heck yeah, reward him with postseason playing time. There’s no penalty for it anymore. Only a benefit.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.