Nick Saban: Redshirt-year games would 'enhance development'

Count Alabama coach Nick Saban as one of the supporters of a proposed rule that would give players and coaches more freedom when it comes to using redshirts.

The American Football Coaches Association is sending a proposal to the NCAA that would allow players to play in up to four games in a season without losing their redshirt status for that year. Saban said Monday that he "absolutely would be in favor" of such a rule.

"It would actually enhance their development to some degree," Saban said during the SEC coaches' postspring teleconference. "With the numbers that we have right now and the number of games that we're playing, you might be able to play a few more players in some of those games, and that would help some of the other players on your team as well.

"The number one thing, it would tremendously help the development of some young players on your team to be able to look forward to being able to play in some guys but not lose the year."

Saban added that it would almost allow coaches to try players out at midseason, eliminating the punishment of a player losing an entire year of eligibility because a coach rushed him onto the field too fast.

Saban's SEC coaching counterparts were also all for this proposal becoming a reality. Mississippi State's Dan Mullen said it could help with player safety by adding to roster numbers toward the middle and end of the season. This way, if a position became thin due to injuries toward the latter part of the season, coaches could insert a true freshman who might be showing signs of being ready to take on playing time without using an entire year of eligibility.

Mullen also said it would benefit players who might start the season off slowly but gradually work their way into game shape. Instead of sitting them to preserve eligibility, coaches could opt to give them valuable experience to better their future development. This proposal could also help with players keeping their redshirts if they don't see action until later in the season but suffer season-ending injuries.

"You should be able to do that," Mullen said. "I'm definitely in favor of that."

For Tennessee coach Butch Jones, getting any sort of game experience for true freshmen is a benefit for most players' psyches.

"Being able to put a young man in those early games, see how they react to it, I think they can develop confidence," Jones said.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron took the proposal a step further, offering his support for getting rid of redshirts altogether and allowing players to have five years of eligibility -- a move some have promoted for years.

"The more you can play, the better," Orgeron said. "This is basketball on grass nowadays. You have some offenses out there trying to run 100 plays. The game has doubled since when we played, so I think the more guys you can [play] without burning a year would be great."

While SEC coaches agreed with the redshirt proposal, they weren't as spirited about the new early signing period that goes into effect this year. The Collegiate Commissioners Association approved a 72-hour signing window that will run from Dec. 20 to Dec. 22, 2017.

The traditional signing day will still remain on the first Wednesday of February, but the addition of a second signing day has many SEC coaches concerned about not just the massive changes and acceleration of the recruiting calendar but also the balancing of time with recruiting and current teams in late December.

"It's a war out there, and now you have two [signing days]," said Orgeron, who also mentioned that an early signing day would affect coaches' bowl preparation.

SEC coaches mostly danced around whether they were in favor of the two signing days. A few, such as South Carolina's Will Muschamp, said they would have rather kept the recruiting calendar the same. Some took a wait-and-see approach, with a few actually supporting the early date, such as Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin, Florida's Jim McElwain and Kentucky's Mark Stoops.

They all liked the idea of committed prospects ready to officially end their recruitment being able to do so with pen and paper, but the most compelling argument for the early signing date came from the idea of coaches and prospects knowing exactly where they stand with each other almost two months before national signing day. Instead of one or both sides being strung along, the early signing date would bring real, honest resolution to the recruiting process for some.

"I truly believe it's going to call some people's bluff, both from the players' side and from the schools' side," McElwain said. "We'll find out how serious they are come that early signing."

However, the biggest issue coaches had was the idea of moving up the official visit calendar. Prospects will now be allowed to take official visits, which are paid for by the schools, after April 1 of their junior year of high school. This won't go into effect until 2018, so recruits signing in the 2018 cycle will still have to take official visits after the start of their senior year of high school.

There's a concern among coaches of not fully getting to know prospects who could decide to officially visit nearly a year before they could sign with a school. With coaches not being able to conduct in-home visits, developing real relationships with these prospects could be tougher and lead to less thorough evaluations.

"Evaluation is important," Saban said, "and the sooner you have to make decisions on these guys, the greater opportunity you have to make mistakes.

"By doing all this, we sort of minimize the opportunity to be able to evaluate these guys, which affects their opportunity too."