Five years of eligibility

The scholarship limit keeps getting smaller and the season keeps getting longer. So, maybe college football's leaders need to do something that will make life a little simpler for the players and coaches.

Steve Pederson, former director of football operations at Tennessee who is now the athletics director at Nebraska, has just such a plan. Peterson is pushing the idea of granting college football players five years of eligibility, instead of four. The suggestion has considerable merit. Here's why:

- Most college football players redshirt as freshmen, meaning they are on scholarship for five years anyway. Why have them spend one of those years watching when they could be contributing?

- With schools limited to 85 scholarship players, redshirting 20 members of a 25-man freshman class leaves a coach with just 65 scholarship players at his disposal. Clearly, having all 85 players available for duty resolves depth problems at a lot of positions, making for stronger teams.

- Playing a guy as a true freshman hastens his development. He'll be a much better player as a sophomore if he saw some action as a rookie, even if he was limited mostly to special teams or mop-up roles.

- Coaches routinely agonize over whether to play or redshirt the freshmen who have the skills to help immediately in reserve roles. Eliminating the redshirt year as an option solves this problem.

- The five-year eligibility proposal should be especially popular among Tennessee fans. One of the knocks on Vol head man Phillip Fulmer is his reluctance to play true freshmen. By allowing each athlete five years of eligibility there would be no reason to keep a talented freshman under wraps.

- A player who loses a significant portion of a season due to injury no longer has to petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility. He's already assured a fifth year if he chooses to use it.

- Finally, consider how many "late bloomers" blossom in the fourth year of their college careers. Quite a few of them might be standouts if their careers were extended via a fifth year of eligibility.

Critics of the five-year eligibility plan suggest that too many players would stick around all five years, putting their programs over the 85-man scholarship limit. That's simply not true. Superstar athletes still would be leaving for the National Football League after four years (some after three). Moreover, athletes who struggle with academics, injuries and/or scant playing time still would be leaving before exhausting all five years of their eligibility.

The five-year eligibility plan will be discussed by the NCAA's member schools this spring. If enough of them support the idea, several NCAA committees will look at the possible ramifications. Then, if all goes well, there could be a vote on whether to adopt the proposal.

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