For 17 years, Todd Berry has been a part of discussions that would bring significant change to college football.
He may finally get his wish this week.
Berry, a 14-year coaching veteran and current executive director of the American Football Coaches Association, is leading the charge in amending a rule, known as bylaw 12.8, that would allow players to participate in up to four games without burning their redshirt year.
“To me, this is a perfect place for the NCAA to step up and say, you know what, we want you to have a great college experience and benefit from all those things that are out there for you. To me, this has been robbing a lot of young people from that,” Berry told CNHI on Monday from Indianapolis, the site of this week’s NCAA meetings.
“It's an archaic rule that needs to be adjusted.”
Proposal 2017-17, introduced in 2017 by the Atlantic Coast Conference, is one of dozens up for a vote this week. Berry is one of four non-voting members of the Division I Football Oversight Committee, a group of administrators and representatives chaired by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsy. Berry said the committee meets early this week to once again look at the proposals, the proposals are then sent to the Division I Council for a vote.
The council passes the proposals with a majority vote, rejects them or tables for further discussion. Final legislation would come later this month from the NCAA Board of Governors.
What seemed like a mere formality months ago — coaches are unanimously in favor of the proposal — now has Berry pausing for a bit.
“I'm excited it's out there in front, but I'm also somewhat nervous about it,” he said. “If it doesn't pass, then it goes on a two-year hiatus where you can't bring it up for two years. This makes too much sense for it not to pass.”
The current bylaw allows student-athletes five years to play four seasons with the option of taking a redshirt year for academic or athletic reasons. Once a player competes, regardless of time and even it's merely one snap, it's counted as a full season and their redshirt is gone.
When the rule was originally put in place, programs had more scholarships (105) and fewer games (11). Nowadays, scholarship limits are set at 85, and teams can play upwards of 15 games if they make the College Football Playoff.
The new proposal would benefit players and coaches. Players would gain valuable experience and be more engaged, knowing they may see snaps earlier in the year in non-conference games or at the end of the year. For coaches, they would avoid making difficult decisions.
Berry said frustration has built among coaches when forced to burn a redshirt due to injuries or depth chart concerns.
“Every year I had to pull someone's redshirt off at the very end of the season for one or two ball games,” said Berry, who coached at Illinois State, Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “That's just a difficult thing to do.”
Two years ago, the Big 12 witnessed firsthand how the rule can create havoc. West Virginia freshman reserve running back Martell Pettaway burned his redshirt 11 games into the season when the Mountaineers dealt with multiple injuries at the position. Pettaway promptly ran over Iowa State for 181 yards on 30 carries in his debut. He returned to his bench role in the final two games of the season, logging just three carries in the bowl game.
“To burn a whole year just for that? That's just not fair for these young people,” Berry said. “That is not the right thing to do. That's why our coaches have been supportive of it for so long.”
Other legislation on the table this week in Indianapolis includes an increase in preseason camp rosters from 105 to 110 student-athletes, turning the spring evaluation period into a contact period, the exclusion of allowing former players to compete in practice (an ex-player can no longer run the scout team to help prepare for an opponent) and allowing walk-ons to receive a scholarship after one year instead of waiting two years.
The inclusion of Proposal 2017-22, for a potential spring contact period, has drawn the most contention from the AFCA. Berry said a high majority of coaches don’t support the proposal since it would put too much pressure on student-athletes.
The NCAA recently added an early signing period in December as an offshoot of the traditional February signing day. In a corresponding move, official visits are now allowed in the spring, and the spring contact period would be another move to align with the revolving calendar.
Berry, however, said there are concerns recruits, especially in bigger cities and urban markets where dozens of coaches may visit daily, will be overwhelmed during a time when end-of-year exams are occurring.
Under current rules, the spring evaluation period runs April 15 through May 31 when programs are allowed 168 recruiting-person days. Coaches can evaluate six days a week, using their time to visit with high school coaches and view practices. They aren’t permitted to have in-person contact with perspective non-senior recruits.
“Our coaches want to protect that. This is student-athlete welfare, and the coaches don't feel like they need that contact,” said Berry, noting how ACC coaches — the league that originally introduced the proposal — don’t agree with it. “Consequently, if that's the case, then I don't understand why the administrators would feel like they need to give a young person a contact during that time frame.”
Sean Isabella covers the Big 12 for CNHI Sports. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.