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Unpopular Opinion: Extra covid year had good intentions, but has made a mess of college football

A lot of people go to school for seven years, and they are called doctors.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about what we would do if we were in charge of our favorite position group, team, conference, or sport. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all our “Unpopular Opinion” articles here.

College football has been incredibly progressive in recent years changing eligibility rules and creating the one-time transfer rule. This is not going to be about rehashing how the entirety of the Covid response was handled by the powers that be in college football, but the well-intentioned rule of granting the extra year of eligibility has made a mess of the sport.

The combination of the one-time free transfer rule getting added to the already existing grad transfer rule made sense. A player should have the ability to make a conscious decision on his football future not based on their first decision. A player could arrive at an institution with promises made and have those unfulfilled, a coach a player committed to can leave for a new job, and later on a player can see that playing on Saturdays might not be in the cards at that institution.

Unfortunately, the one-time transfer rule came at one of the most tumultuous times the world and sports have seen. Players were committing to schools site unseen, Zoom recruiting pitches had to be trusted, and the travel rules to institutions made it challenging to host official visits. Heck for the shortened season, fans weren’t allowed in at full capacity anywhere. This made that decision even harder for freshman players coming into a school, and questioning that decision made the one-time transfer rule a tool that those players especially deserved.

But that is not the issue. The intent of the one-time transfer rule was to give players an opportunity for freedom in their choices. An unintended consequence of that was players who had that additional year of eligibility at all schools basically became free agents. This isn’t about removing the one-time transfer rule, the lack of guard rails in NIL, and the additional covid year — because I really don’t have a problem with those. I just think the additional year of eligibility was a quick response with no thought of future repercussions.

The combination of the one-time transfer rule, the additional year of eligibility, and Name, Image, and Likeness all coming to the forefront made a mess of college football that has still failed to correct itself. Hopefully, when the Super Duper Seniors age out, we’ll finally see the true intentions of the new rules in the form they were intended.

There was no good solution

Before we get into my personal gripes, at the onset of the pandemic there were no perfect solutions. There was not a set timetable for anything, and this made legislation during that period incredibly challenging for the NCAA. Talking through fixes in my head when this opinion occurred when looking at some rosters, there wasn’t a fair way to reward years.

Some sports had their seasons canceled entirely, some conferences played sports with limited scheduling, and from the academic side of the coin, institutions had bigger things to worry about than their sports programs. At the high school level, the situation was even worse. Looking back, it is wild to think that Ohio State will have some incredibly important players whose senior years didn’t happen due to their sports being canceled.

My first thought was to award seniors and fifth-year players with an additional year of eligibility. The issue with that is every class under them’s schedule was equally affected. Everyone getting another year of eligibility really was the best solution at the time, but with the high school class coming in there was not the traditional roster turnover in any sport. Seniors didn’t have to enter the draft or move on due to graduation. All the other classes remained the same, but then there was a group of high schoolers showing up that offseason with a traditional four years and a redshirt of eligibility.

The only real solution was holding off on the one-time transfer rule, but after years of discourse regarding player movement, there was absolutely no chance there would be a pause. This meant a group of freshmen would get lost in the shuffle, and a group of older players who had already transferred or hadn’t to that point had an opportunity for a fresh start with more eligibility than they would have. This made roster management incredibly complicated, and almost every single player in every sport was affected in some way.

The Covid Year Free Agent

Go get your money. That is absolutely okay for athletes to do, and college sports were archaic in the sense that athletes under the NCAA umbrella could not make money off their names. NIL should have and should always be in place. There is zero reason anyone in the United States should not be allowed to make money off of who they are. With that, there are always unintended consequences of new legislation.

The first year of NIL was always going to be the Wild West. Now that the first two years of recruiting and the transfer portal have passed in an NIL world, self-regulation is starting to take hold. Coaches are getting in front of tampering behind closed doors, and players are realizing that there are a lot of stipulations that come with those monetary offers. There’s a reason outside of the first few years of NIL, the top-5 schools currently in the recruiting composite of 247Sports are Ohio State, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, and LSU. Alabama also has the most five-star commitments so far in this cycle.

Schools have risen back to the top, but an equalizer that came to the forefront is the COVID year free agent. There have been quite a few players who have fit this narrative that took advantage of the one-year transfer to maximize their potential or take advantage of the NIL rules.

Names like Jordan Addison transferring to USC, Sam Hartman to Notre Dame, Brennan Armstrong to NC State, Phil Jurkovec to Boston College — and now Pitt — and a litany of other players. Miami built multiple sports programs on these one-and-done free agents. In most sports colossal failure ensued, but their basketball programs excelled. This will be the final year of the over-age free agent.

This was an unintended consequence that was fostered to help players who did not get regular final seasons. This will fix itself, and we’re a class or two away from the end of the super senior free agent. Now the most valuable players will be freshmen who use their one-time transfer after that first year. After that, they are locked in place for the foreseeable future or until they graduate. The 7th-year senior will be a rarity as it should be again, but this season will be the second to last where it is a regular occurrence.

The 7th Year Senior

Last season there was a player on Cal named Luc Bequette. He played with Jared Goff and was still in school last season. For context, Goff was drafted in 2016 and his last football game was in 2015. That is not the case for everyone with the extra year of eligibility, but I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s absurd.

Ohio State has quarterback Tristan Gebbia who is going into his sixth season, and expected to play so little that he is technically preparing for his role as a future coach. The real problem isn’t the sixth or seventh season, it’s how many players have this opportunity. The Buckeyes are benefiting from this in their quarterback room, but around the country, coaches are relying on these players to take their program to the next level.

At the time of writing this, I am 26 years old. Last year Stetson Bennett and Hendon Hooker were 25 years old. This is too old, and it feels like quarterbacks are staying too long to live the dream. Both players maximized their final seasons, with Bennett winning a national championship and Hooker having a Heisman-level season until his injury.

This is a far stretch from the oldest players in college football being 23 years old, and as said previously if the rule is there take advantage of it. There is just no reason someone who played with Jared Goff should still be in school. Looking across the country, the Tommy Boy joke is getting old. People forget the second part with David Spade’s response to those who stay in school that long: “I know, they’re called doctors,” and that is how I feel about the additional year of eligibility in 2023.

The four-game redshirt rule

The last part of the mess was the four-year redshirt rule, which has been great for young players, but once again there were unintended consequences. In 2018 the first example of this occurred with Clemson’s quarterback Kelly Bryant during his competition with Trevor Lawrence. An incredibly crazy story, but the first real example of truly taking advantage of an unaccounted-for part of this rule.

Over the past few seasons, players have been able to sit out after four games, and in most cases, this gives them the opportunity to play and still use their one-time transfer. The intention of the four-game redshirt rule was to allow players who were in their first season to gain experience, and still maintain that year of eligibility. Obviously, this wasn’t the case, and it comes back to the extra season.

Players would be able to use their one-time transfer after redshirting four games, with no loss of eligibility. In some cases, they have taken it a step further using the graduate transfer immediately after if that season did not work out. This has been relatively quarterback centric, think about Keon Slovis (USC to Pitt to BYU) and J.T. Daniels (USC to Georgia to Rice). Two high-profile quarterbacks have taken this route, maybe not directly, but in some sense. This rule will become more normalized as NIL gets more settled, but the current state with the extra year, it makes this rule more complex than it needs to be.

Overall, this is a more personal gripe. As stated earlier, there were no good solutions on how to handle the year of eligibility that was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why this opinion might be seen as unpopular, because in all honesty, what were they supposed to do?

Everybody’s season got messed up, and this in turn led to the incoming freshman class having to deal with a new environment in the program. This led to some serious unintended consequences — players transferred after one season, NIL came to the forefront, and players all got an additional year of eligibility. In a year or two this will all be over, and there will be some incredible stories about the gained years after COVID.

There were definitely good intentions with the rule, but that does not mean I have to like all the issues that arose. This also doesn’t mean I don’t understand why the rules were established, but with the three major rule changes, there were definitely consequences. With any new legislation, there will always be some sense of oversight involved. This leads to all the crazy stories of NIL and extra seasons that came with the additional year.

The extra COVID year of eligibility had good intentions, but it really did make a mess of college football.