If there is one thing Nebraska football fans discovered long ago about head coach Bo Pelini is that if there is a matter he feels strong about, he will say so.
That aspect of Pelini’s personality was rather apparent Thursday at Big Ten football media day in Chicago on Thursday. So what topic did Pelini sound off so strongly on Thursday? Eliminating freshmen eligibility.
“That would be the best thing that could happen to college football, and probably college basketball and college athletics in general,” Pelini said. “That’s my opinion. I think that would be a tremendous move. I don’t know if there’s a lot of momentum for that.”
The reason behind Pelini’s viewpoint is that such a move would improve the recruiting process and give freshmen a chance to mature, not only from a football standpoint but academically.
“Let’s slow this thing down a little bit,” Pelini said, “and make them ineligible.”
I don’t agree with that assessment so much that it should be an NCAA mandated rule but I can think of far worse ideas. What Pelini says makes a lot of sense. Well, definitely in football but in basketball or baseball that rule would not wash because you have 18 year olds in the NBA and getting drafted by Major League Baseball teams. In football, however, I say “well and good” because even the best high school running back would get obliterated by the like of Ray Lewis. Even the college version as opposed to the future NFL Hall-of-Fame kind.
Pelini, however, is spot on from an academic standpoint because life would be much easier on the athlete if they knew all that was expected that redshirt year was hitting the books and the weight room. I also think too many coaches want to see a quick return on their investment. Athletic departments pay for scholarships for their star athletes to play, not watch others play. I think academically such a move would weed out kids who are just on campus to play sports and not get an education.
Granted, Pelini’s view resonates of one who is seeking is a move back in the direction of what we used to call the “student athlete” because I think we’ve kind of lost sight of that and it might be time to see if we can’t get that back. I am fully aware of those that only go to college to play but the vast majority are there for an education as well, the same vast majority that will never play in the NFL or the NBA, or even MLB.
There is a lot to be said for starting off well academically because if a youngster starts out by barely passing his classes and it’s an uphill climb all the way.
Plus it would sort of eliminate the effect of those parents who think their kid should only go to a school who promises to start them their first year. Who knows, maybe coaches would be less inclined to dangle that “you'll start your first year" promise.
The current NCAA rules state that an eligible athlete has five years to complete four seasons. Therefore, student-athletes may practice for a team but not play in a game for one season, not counting against his or her four seasons of eligibility. This is known as a redshirt. Fans don’t see their contributions in that they do not happen on gameday but the redshirt season is a valuable year in a system in that it provides shelter against some of the harsh realities of jumping to a new level of football.
You see, some highly-touted high school studs make their college choices in the recruiting process based on early playing time. Some coaches promise it or tell the youngster he has a fair chance to compete for playing time. Others will demand an automatic redshirt. Pelini might not redshirt 100 percent of his recruits as freshmen but it’s going to be rare when he does not.
There are numerous reasons to redshirt freshmen. For starters, the college game moves a hell of a lot faster than high school, which means decisions have to be made faster. Therefore, the extra season working against starters in practice is a benefit.
Also, highly touted high school studs were often the stars of their team and their league. They were exponentially better than their high school peers. In college, everyone is at least as good if not better. That extra year of conditioning will give the youngster a better chance to handle the rigors of a 12-14 game college schedule.
The verbiage of a playbook (especially on offense) is also far greater in college than in high school as is the intricacy of reading the opposition. Some of that pressure can be alleviated during a redshirt season.
Then there is the whole matter of adjusting from high school to college away from the field. For some of these youngsters, it’s their first time away from home. All of the sudden cooking, cleaning, doing laundry and partying are a juggling act. Throw that in with trying to balance academics with athletics.
Pelini understands that the temptation to put the best talent on the field is tough to overcome. The development of a successful program, however, is not about talent alone but it is about the development of an overall player and his maturity to handle the pressures and demands of being a great college football player.
Though the Huskers had a disappointing finish to the 2010 season (losing three of their last four games), you sense the roster is being better managed under Pelini than Bill Callahan.
I am of the opinion that the star system only matters in high school and freshman year. I will take a three star senior with four years of good coaching over a five-star freshman that demands early playing time with huge expectations and not much else any day.