In the 2016 season, Georgia Tech backup quarterback TaQuon Marshall got into the tail end of two games for the Yellow Jackets – mop-up duty in blowouts of Mercer and Vanderbilt. He played a total of 14 snaps and threw one pass.
And with those handful of snaps, Marshall used up a season of eligibility, 25 percent of the seasons he is able to play as a collegian. Had the NCAA’s new rule on allowing players to play in four games in a season and still redshirt been in effect then, Tech and Marshall would be in a considerably different place today. Rather than going into his senior season, Marshall would instead be a junior.
Introduced Wednesday, the rule appears to have few, if any, critics. The grace and flexibility that it would offer players such as Marshall is one reason why. The rule was created to promote fairness, keep redshirting players engaged by offering them limited opportunities to play and also enable coaches to go deeper into their roster in injury situations.
In 2016, there was reason to play Marshall as the No. 3 quarterback, though it came at the season of a year of eligibility (Marshall had also played in his first year on campus, in 2015, and thus had a redshirt season available). Marshall needed the experience; he had played A-back as a freshman and potentially was in position to have to play in an emergency situation. Indeed, No. 2 quarterback Matthew Jordan had to start one game that season in place of starter Justin Thomas, against Virginia Tech.
Had a) coach Paul Johnson decided to try to press his luck and see if he could get through the season without having to play Marshall in order to preserve his redshirt; b) Jordan gotten hurt in the Virginia Tech game, Marshall’s first snaps at quarterback would have been in the din of Lane Stadium, 10 games into the season.
Going forward, how each team will use the four-game allowance remains to be seen. One guess is that it might not change much. In a blowout win, Tech might get its third-string players onto the field by mid-to-late fourth quarter.
Those players, a group that typically includes some walk-ons, deserve playing time just as much, or more, than redshirts. It doesn’t leave much time for fourth-stringers, which is presumably what the redshirts would be.
Take Marshall as an example. In 2016, he played one series against Mercer and two against Vanderbilt. Would it have been wise/fair to take away any of those snaps from him to give to the No. 4 quarterback (at the time, either Lucas Johnson or Jay Jones)?
There has been the thought that bowl games could create more interest if fans knew that redshirt players would be playing, something of a look at the future. It’s an intriguing concept, but teams and coaches are still playing to win those games, though some may deride them as glorified exhibition games. It would take a significant shift in approach to find snaps for little-used players.
Where it could be of value is with players whose redshirts are burned midway through the season. Last year, freshman guard Connor Hansen played in three games after injuries thinned the depth chart – against North Carolina in the fourth game of the season and then against Duke and Georgia at the end. Under the new rule, it could still be a redshirt season, as it essentially was for Hansen, and he would have had four seasons of eligibility remaining, not three.
Also, players who are injured in the spring or preseason and aren’t able to play early on in the season and have a redshirt season available can come back and play at season’s end and, so long as they don’t go over the four-game limit, can still take the redshirt.
It is the latest in a series of NCAA rules changes that could be deemed to be favorable to athletes. On Wednesday, the governing body also issued a change to the transfer process that will prevent schools from blocking athletes from transferring to certain schools.