An inundation of phone calls and text messages swarmed Todd Berry’s phone shortly after lunchtime Wednesday.
Jubilation occurred from his coaching counterparts. For Berry, the executive director for the American Football Coaches Association, 17 years' worth of emotions were built up.
For nearly two decades, Berry pushed for redshirt reform. On Wednesday morning, the NCAA Division I Council passed Proposal 2017-17, which amends bylaw 12.8 that will allow players to participate in up to four games without burning their redshirt year. Final approval will come from the NCAA Board of Governors.
“It's been what I thought it would be,” Berry told CNHI by phone from Waco, Texas. “Text messages and phone calls basically saying, 'It's a long time coming and excited about this for this next year's class and those classes that follow.'”
Berry chuckled a few times between responses. He knows the importance of Wednesday’s legislative decision; not for himself, but rather for all parties involved.
“This is a huge win for our student athletes,” he said. "I appreciate all the work our coaches did in terms of talking to their athletic directors and our presidents about why this was significant. … The biggest holdup, quite honestly, (was) giving them the reasons why this is significant.”
The council addressed one concern not specifically outlined in the ACC’s proposal, stating mid-year enrollees who play in the postseason can’t use the exception.
In other words, only players on the fall roster would be able to play in up to four games and count the year back.
“We were trying to make sure there was no ability to be able to say I'm in the (College Football Playoff) and then a mid-year transfer can play and it not cost you,” Berry said. “That's not what the intent of the rule was.”
Originally tabled by the council in April based on questions of timing, the number of games and application to other sports, the council moved forward with the proposal for football. An NCAA release said the Division I Student-Athlete Experience Committee will examine how the redshirt rule could apply to other sports.
The current rule gives student athletes five years to play four seasons with the option of taking a redshirt year for academic or athletic purposes. But even if a player is in for one snap, it’s counted as a full season.
Coaches like Berry, whose resume includes stops at Louisiana-Monroe, Army and Illinois State, were constantly faced with difficult decisions, but even more so recently with fewer scholarships (85) and more games (upwards of 15 if teams make the College Football Playoff).
“It is something I think is even more significant now than what it was back then,” Berry said. “I was obviously very frustrated having to go through those meetings with student-athletes at the end of the year to say, ‘Hey, I need you for a quarter to burn your whole redshirt year.’”
Berry previously said the rule change would help student-athletes remain engaged for the entire season. Far too often players tend to drift, and sometimes transfer if they are stamped with a redshirt tag.
The flexibility is a welcome sign for coaches in the Big 12, many of whom spoke out in support of the rule during a post-spring practice conference call.
“Giving the kids a couple games to get their feet wet to get in there and remove some of the snaps from some of these other guys, or late in the year when you have some injuries to play a kid who maybe wasn't ready before but is now ready, it's just the best thing to do for the student athlete, for their development, for their welfare, for their health, really, as we move forward,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said in April.
The rule change also effectively replaces the medical hardship that provided an additional year of eligibility for a player who was injured in the first four games of the season.
“You might have a young man that didn't play early in the season and all of a sudden was playing late and had an injury late in the season, or only played in one game and then lost the whole year based off the fact it didn't come in the first 25 percent of the season, which was unfair also,” Berry said. “It should be about the number of opportunities to play rather than when they occurred.”
Sean Isabella covers the Big 12 for CNHI Sports. He can be reached at email@example.com.