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Life in the Red: What we know about the redshirt rule and transfer penalties

October 3, 2018

Minnesota defensive back Antonio Shenault (34) stops Nebraska wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey (1) during the first half Nov. 11 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Recent days and weeks around college football have featured many questions about the NCAA’s new redshirt rule and the unforeseen rash of players who have decided to transfer early in the season.

I don’t have all the answers, but let’s see if we can clear a few things up in the wake of Tyjon Lindsey’s transfer from Nebraska after four games.

I’ve talked to a few people today about this rule and how it’s being applied – and perhaps misinterpreted – and will try not to get too bogged down in details. Just some general details.

So, as most people know by now, the new rule states that players can play in up to four games and still use a redshirt. The rule was designed to increase opportunities for young players – particularly true freshmen – and also give coaches more flexibility in how to manage a roster.

It also – as we’ve seen with Husker linebacker Will Honas’ season-ending knee injury against Purdue – provides some protection/simplicity for injured players. Honas, a junior college transfer, has a redshirt available and appeared in only four games before his injury, so instead of waiting and applying for a medical redshirt down the road, he can just use 2018 as his redshirt season. He’ll be a redshirt junior in 2019.

The most confusion arises from transfer situations. The understanding at NU – and I think at most schools – is that transferring during a season at the redshirt deadline is really only beneficial if you’re a senior/potential graduate transfer.

Take Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who announced his intention to transfer last week after appearing in the Tigers’ first four games. He graduated in May and also had a redshirt available. Both of those factors matter. By leaving the team before he appeared in a fifth game, he can preserve this year with his redshirt. Since he’s a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible right away next season.

But what about an underclassmen player like Lindsey? He’s got a redshirt year available, so he can use it for this fall despite the fact he appeared in Nebraska’s first four games, but he’s not graduating this year. As far as the people I’ve talked to understand it, he still has to sit next season to satisfy normal NCAA transfer guidelines. Redshirting alone doesn’t satisfy the transfer penalty of a year, and it doesn’t seem likely that Lindsey or other players can actually get enrolled at a new school any faster than they would have under the old rules.

The main caveat is this that there’s always a chance the NCAA could change that rule between now and next fall or grant all of these players immediate eligibility, but this is the understanding of it now.

If the status quo holds, then Lindsey – and other underclassmen around the country who transfer during the season – don’t really seem to gain anything by leaving now as opposed to the end of the season. What’s the difference between using a redshirt now and sitting next year or playing the rest of the season and then using a redshirt during a transfer year? Either way, he’d be a redshirt junior in 2020 with two years of eligibility remaining. He just won’t play the last eight games here this fall.

There’s no known indication that immediate eligibility is on the table. The risk of injury is decreased by not playing the rest of the year, but that also takes away the opportunity to make plays, improve, stay in shape, etc.

Another factor: Fall semesters are far enough along all over the country – even in quarter system schools – that it seems unlikely a player can just transfer mid-semester. Lindsey and other underclassmen at this point probably have to finish the semester at their respective institutions to avoid academic problems.

The final wrinkle is that not every part of the Transfer Working Group’s new rules are in place yet. Come Oct. 15, schools can no longer block transfer requests at all. That date will also mark the beginning of a new NCAA-curated database of all players that have announced their intention to transfer. Schools must notify the NCAA within 48 hours of a player telling the school he wants to leave. Once the player’s name is in the database, other schools are free to make contact and start recruiting.

But that’s still 12 days from now before all of that goes into effect.

In the meantime, there still seem to be more questions than answers about how underclassmen like Lindsey will have their experiences play out in the coming months.

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