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Notre Dame Football: The NCAA’s New Rule Would Have Helped Jay Hayes (And Will Help A Lot of Freshmen)

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The NCAA’s move to preserve underutilized players’ eligibility isn’t retroactive, but let’s look back...and then look forward.

Temple v Notre Dame Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s November 2014.

Junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day has sprained his MCL, making him unavailable for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s upcoming game against the Louisville Cardinals. Also out is Daniel Cage, a freshman who has, to this point, played in all 10 games. The Irish are 7-3, in a bit of a tailspin, and coach Brian Kelly has a decision to make.

Who will replace Day and Cage?

“It was a difficult decision,” Kelly said of his decision to remove the redshirt from freshman Jay Hayes. “If we get him to 100 reps and a couple of weeks of practice, we’ll feel as though we did by him the right thing to get him enough reps and enough work to make it worthwhile.”

Fast forward to the present.

On Wednesday, the NCAA passed a rule that would have helped Hayes — had it been in place in 2014 or if it was retroactive (which it’s not).

A football player still only has five years to complete four seasons of competition, but he now may participate in up to four contests in a single season without exhausting a season of competition.

Essentially, the NCAA is giving each player 4 13 years of eligibility.

The American Football Coaches Association lobbied hard for this rule, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a win for the coach who, in late season, is trying to manage a roster of a walking wounded. He doesn’t have to put pressure on the student-athlete to play through an injury to preserve a teammate’s redshirt. He can simply play the freshman, as long as that service doesn’t exceed four games.

It’s a win for the player too, especially for the freshman (and his parents). Each game is a new opportunity to get legitimate snaps, instead of knowing in August you won’t see the field, regardless of your shine on the scout team. It’ll become a motivating factor which will keep them more focused (and happier).

It’s also a win for the hardcore fan. Each person that follows recruiting closely has their favorite guy. Some of them — such as Derrik Allen or Braden Lenzy or Houston Griffith — may see the field as freshman, either because depth is shallow at their position or they’re too talented to keep off the field. Others, such as Phil Jurkovec, have a crowded field ahead of them.

Let’s consider last year’s game against the Miami-Ohio Redhawks. The Irish lead, 45-17, heading into the final quarter. Ian Book replaces Brandon Wimbush at quarterback and runs two series. Then Book is replaced by Montgomery VanGorder, a senior used primarily as a holder, instead of by Avery Davis, a true freshman who is preserving a year of eligibility.

This year, if the game against, say, the Ball State Cardinals is as lopsided as last year’s affair against the Redhawks, I’d expect to see Jurkovec in there. It’s a freebie. Let’s see what the phenom freshman can do in a real game situation.

Without this rule at their disposal, what did the Irish do with Hayes? He sat out the 2015 season to regain a year of eligibility...which he’s now taking with the Georgia Bulldogs a graduate student.

Here’s the text of the new rule. The bold language was added. Anything in italics was removed.

12.8 Seasons of Competition: Five-Year Rule. A student-athlete shall not engage in more than four seasons of intercollegiate competition in any one sport (see Bylaws 12.02.5 and 14.3.3). An institution shall not permit a student-athlete to represent it in intercollegiate competition unless the individual completes all of his or her seasons of participation in all sports within the time periods specified below:

[12.8.1 through 12.8.2 unchanged.]

12.8.3 Criteria for Determining Season of Competition.

12.8.3.1 Minimum Amount of Competition. Any competition, regardless of time, during a season in an intercollegiate sport shall be counted as a season of competition in that sport, except as provided in Bylaws 12.8.3.1.1, 12.8.3.1.2, 12.8.3.1.4, and 12.8.3.1.5 and 12.8.3.1.6. This provision is applicable to intercollegiate athletics competition conducted by a two-year or four-year collegiate institution at the varsity or subvarsity level.

[12.8.3.1.1 through 12.8.3.1.5 unchanged.]

12.8.3.1.6 Exception -- Football. In football, a student-athlete may compete in up to four contests in a season without using a season of competition.