Recently the National Association of Basketball Coaches proposed that college athletes be allowed a fifth year of competitive eligibility. Players are currently allowed five years of eligibility but may only compete in four of those years with the fifth being a redshirt season. The idea gained credibility when it was quickly endorsed by NCAA president Myles Brand. The Atlantic Coast Conference took it one step further when they proposed that the new rule be applied to both men's and women's basketball, as well as football. ACC commissioner John Swofford stated in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the plan could very well spread to all sports.
Proponents have been quick to point out that studies show the average athlete takes 4.8 years to graduate. Many feel that the upside to an extra year of playing eligibility will be higher graduation rates.
Those against the added year have pointed out that if scholarship limits are maintained at their current levels, many high school players stand to be passed by as colleges scramble to make room for their fifth year seniors. With talk of the proposal quite possibly being enacted as early as next April, college coaches are already making contingency plans for the impact the rule change could have on their current team as well as recruiting.
One huge advocate for the potential change is NC State head coach Chuck Amato. As a result of the rebuilding process within the Wolfpack football program and the infusion of talent over the last several years, the Pack has not been in a position to red-shirt the number of players that more established programs such as Miami or Ohio State have been able to hold out for a year. As a result, the Pack could stand to benefit greatly from an extra year of eligibility- a fact that seems to sit just fine with the Wolfpack's head coach.
"I'll tell you what," said Amato. "I wish it would pass. I wish they would say it, the earlier the better. I would take a fifth year senior for a smaller recruiting class or a first year freshman. I mean, I would rather have back a Dovonte or Reid and Paulsen. Manny Lawson would have three years in front of him. Mario would have four years in front of him.
"We were talking about this the other day and I was saying that we need to expedite this if we can. I don't know if it's going to become a reality, but it looks like it will. But look at the first year around, teams that red-shirt most of their players, it won't affect because they're already in that five year mode. But I talked to our seniors and I said, if this passes, you've got to consider yourself a fourth year junior. And the advantage they'll have is that the pros are allowed to analyze fourth year seniors who could become fourth year juniors. So they could get a good measure of their worth."
One of the major question coaches are asking is, should the new proposal be adopted at some point, which classes will it affect. Coach Amato says he is hopeful that it will be made retroactive to include the current senior class. Whatever the case, Amato says he hopes a decision will be made sooner rather than later.
"We have to know because it affects recruiting," he said. "Do we have seven players who say they're coming back or that they'd like to come back. So the rule hasn't passed and we sign 25 kids. Then the rule passes so now what do we do with the 25 kids."
One of the hurdles that must be crossed will be the initial glut of high school seniors that could be left behind due to fifth year seniors declaring their intention to stay in college. Some have suggested that the NCAA consider raising the current 85 scholarship limit to reduce the effect the change would have on this year's senior high school class.
Another consideration with the proposal is that the redshirt year will be made obsolete. Many have considered that first year to be an opportunity for athletes to prepare physically for the rigors of division one football as well as laying the foundation for success in the classroom.
While the NCAA has historically been slow to make major policy changes, the five years to play five proposal seems to have the momentum and support to eventually pass at some point. Should it become a reality, fans could very well see a vastly different athletic landscape in the near future.