NCAA Ruling On Eligibility Will Have A Widespread Impact For Notre Dame

Notre Dame must adapt to a recent NCAA ruling granting an additional year of eligibility to football players
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It has been almost two weeks since the NCAA granted an extra season of eligibility for college football players, whether they play this season or not. How that impacts Notre Dame and the rest of the college football world remains to be seen.

The issue at this point is the NCAA has given very little guidance to schools in regards to how this will work. It seems that all that is known right now is that 1) players will get an additional season of eligibility and 2) seniors that return in 2021 won’t count towards the 85 scholarship limit.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly addressed some of the concerns about this decision. Before I give my thoughts on it listen to what the Irish head coach had to say:

This is just another example of how poorly ran the NCAA is at this point. They make decision after decision that makes little rational sense, and when they do make broad decisions like this that on the merits do make sense, they provide very little guidance to schools on how it will work moving forward.

I get that this offseason has been unprecedented, but the fact is the NCAA made the right decision at the wrong time. There was no reason to rush this decision, which I discussed in the video at the top of the article. No one is making a decision to play or not play this season based on granting an additional season of eligibility. The NCAA should not have made this decision until it had developed a specific plan on how this would impact teams in future seasons.

Kelly brought up the biggest question mark in this regard, which is will the scholarship limit go back to 85 in 2022? There seems to be little guidance on how this will impact programs.

Now I want to focus on why I think big picture this ruling makes sense, and which players it will help the most. To begin, high-end players aren’t going to be impacted by this decision. A player that is going to be a high draft pick isn’t going to get an extra season, which means Notre Dame fans shouldn’t expect a fifth season from a player like Kyle Hamilton.

There are other types of players this could impact, and keep in mind the specific players are being discussed because of their situation. It is not a prediction that they will in fact take advantage of the rule, nor am I giving away any insider information from players.

SPECIAL TEAMS/ROLE PLAYERS/BACK UPS

Often times a talented young athlete might not be ready to play on offense or defense early on, but he is someone the staff decides to use on special teams. Recent examples are linebackers Shayne Simon and Bo Bauer, rover Paul Moala, and tight end Brock Wright. This decision means that Simon and Bauer now have eligibility for 2021 and 2022, instead of being done after 2021.

Getting an extra year from Simon, Bauer and Moala could be huge for Notre Dame.

For Wright, he has been a career backup, and this decision grants him an additional year. If he breaks out at tight end this season he could have an extra year to build his NFL resume. If Wright can’t breakout he could end up spending a year somewhere else as a grad transfer.

Safety Houston Griffith is another player that falls into this category. He played as a nickel in 2018 and was mostly a special teams player in 2019. Griffith was moved from cornerback to nickel to safety to cornerback and now back to safety, and it stunted his development. This additional season of eligibility means Griffith can now play in 2020, 2021 and 2022, which could be huge for him.

Senior lineman Joshua Lugg has had a hard time cracking the starting lineup due to a deep and talented group of older players and players in his class (Robert Hainsey, Aaron Banks). Lugg could now have the option to play a sixth season, which means he could end up spending two years in the starting lineup past the 2020 season.

Junior cornerback TaRiq Bracy is another example, but his situation is a bit different. Bracy forced his way onto the field in 2018 and 2019, earning a key rotation spot at cornerback and a key role on special teams. The issue, however, is that Bracy forcing his way onto the field meant he couldn’t take a redshirt. While his skillset didn’t warrant a redshirt, obviously, his lack of size and strength did.

Now, Bracy gets to keep playing and taking advantage of the talent that has served him well thus far in his career, but the extra year gives him more time to keep building up his body without having to sit out a season.

A similar statement could be made about junior wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, although Keys could actually have a possible sixth season in 2023 due to the fact he took a redshirt season in 2018. Keys is another talented young player that could benefit from an extra season of building up his small frame.

DEVELOPMENTAL PLAYERS

There are two types of developmental players that could benefit from this rule. The first are athletes who moved around a lot, or athletes that were playing new positions when they get to college. This ruling gives them additional time to learn and develop.

Senior wide receiver Avery Davis has a story similar to Griffith. He began his career at quarterback, then moved to cornerback, then moved to running back, and now he’s playing wide receiver. Davis has never had the extended time at one position to get the experience necessary to shine. This decision means Davis can now actually spend three seasons at wide receiver (2020-22).

Sophomore Kendall Abdur-Rahman was a quarterback in high school and he spent his freshman season at wide receiver. He’s currently playing running back, and we don’t yet know if he’s going to stay there or move back to wide receiver. Either way, Abdur-Rahman is a talented player that could greatly benefit from this extra year.

He now gets extra time to develop the necessary technique to thrive at either position. If he stays at running back, this decision gives him an extra year to build up his body. Should Abdur-Rahman start to show comfort at one position it could have a significant impact on Notre Dame’s recruiting focus in the 2022 and 2023 classes, especially if he sticks at running back.

Sophomore cornerback Cam Hart is another player that could greatly benefit from this ruling. Hart was recruited to play wide receiver, and he spent most of his freshman season on offense. Hart has shown a lot of promise at cornerback, and my sources have raved about his future at the position.

With an extra year of eligibility, he’s basically a freshman all over again, and even if he plays this season it would essentially be a redshirt season. That means Hart could end up playing five years at the position. It sounds odd to say, but if Hart needs time to really grow into the position a decision like this could be huge for him.

A big man example would be sophomore guard Hunter Spears. The Texas native began his career at defensive tackle but moved to guard this spring. What I said about Hart you can say about Spears. He’s basically restarting his eligibility clock as an offensive lineman.

Two undersized linemen could greatly benefit from this ruling. Sophomore center Zeke Correll and sophomore defensive tackle Howard Cross III are both talented but undersized young players.

Correll is an athletic, talented and tough player, but he is on the small side. He can build up the necessary size and strength to be an excellent college football player, but he’ll need more time than most players. To understand what this means for Correll, we can basically look at him like a true freshman, and even if he plays every game this will be looked at as a redshirt season. In theory, Correll could head into the 2021 season and be viewed as basically a redshirt freshman despite the fact he’ll be in his third year in the program.

Cross is in the same boat on defense. Sources have raved bout his potential inside, but right now he’s too small to be an every down player. Granting an extra season for these two players means they get one more vital season to build up their bodies.

If Correll and Spears show promise, and if the staff views them as possible sixth-year players, it would allow the staff to focus less on numbers along the offensive line in the 2022 and 2023 classes, and spend more time on landing high-end talents. That means this decision could not only benefit the future offensive line, it also could result in a refocus along the offensive line.

INJURY-SUSPENSION ISSUES

Junior wideout Kevin Austin is one player that could be greatly impacted by this decision. I have no idea if Austin would have any desire to return for a fifth season, but this ruling could be significant for him if he does. Austin played very little as a freshman in 2018, but he did burn a season of eligibility. His 2019 season was wiped out due to a suspension, and now he’s slated to miss at least a third of the 2020 season with a foot injury.

My understanding of the rules are Austin could not claim the 2019 season as a redshirt since he was suspended. That meant the 2021 season was going to be his final season at Notre Dame. Now, should Austin desire to return and should the school allow him back, he could actually play part of this season, all of 2021 and return for the 2022 season, should he need that time to continue proving himself as a player (for the NFL) and as a young man off the field.

Another wideout, Joe Wilkins Jr., redshirted in 2018 and had a decent chunk of the 2019 season impacted by injuries. In theory, Wilkins could actually stay at Notre Dame through the 2023 season. Notre Dame coaches have always been high on Wilkins, but staying healthy has been an issue.

Sophomore end NaNa Osafo-Mensah is a young lineman that could benefit from an extra year. If he can show enough growth as a player to warrant being brought back, Osafo-Mensah would now be able to get the 2020 season back after an injury wiped out his campaign.

An interesting player to consider here is Jack Lamb. He took a redshirt in 2018, due in part to injuries, and his promising 2019 season was cut short due to injuries. Lamb now has the possibility of returning for the 2023 season. This ruling basically means the 2019 season was his freshman season, and he’s now going into 2020 as a redshirt freshman, from an eligibility standpoint.

TRANSFERS

Potential graduate transfers could also benefit greatly from this ruling. When you look at players like wide receiver Micah Jones and tight end George Takacs, this could be big for them. In theory, Jones and Takacs could graduate in May and transfer. Prior to this decision they would be able to play the 2021 and 2022 seasons. Now, however, they can play three seasons at a new school, which would make players like them far more attractive for coaches.

I am not saying Jones and/or Takacs would transfer, they are simply examples of players at loaded positions that are good football players. They are emblematic of a group of players that could greatly benefit from this ruling.

NFL PROSPECTS

There are some mid to late-round NFL Draft prospects that could have some tough decision to make for 2021.

Right tackle Robert Hainsey will be a four-year starter when the 2020 season is done. If Hainsey gets a day two grade (rounds 2-3) I would imagine he would leave for the NFL. This ruling, however, grants him a fifth season, and if he gets a lower round grade he could make the decision to return for a fifth season.

The same is true of nose tackle Kurt Hinish.

Grad transfer cornerback Nick McCloud is another intriguing player that could be impacted by this ruling. McCloud was expected to be done after the 2020 season. If he plays well enough for the coaches to want him back, but not well enough for him to be a day one or day two pick, there is now an option for him to return for the 2021 season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

No position could be impacted more than special teams.

Notre Dame was expected to lose Jonathan Doerer after the 2020 season. This ruling now means Notre Dame could bring him back for the 2021 season. Notre Dame could still add a scholarship kicker in the 2021 class (Josh Bryan), but he would now get the chance to redshirt in 2021 while Doerer finishes up his Irish career.

Notre Dame could also get five years of Jay Bramblett punting, which would be huge.

How will this impact a player like long snapper Alex Peitsch? If he doesn’t earn the snapping job it won’t matter much, because he would take a redshirt this season and then snap for four seasons. If he wins the snapping job this season it could have a much bigger impact because he could now be the starting snapper for five seasons.

RECRUITING IMPACT

One position that could be greatly impacted by this decision is linebacker. I’ve been concerned about Notre Dame only landing one linebacker (Prince Kollie) in the 2020 and 2021 classes. This decision could have a significant impact on the linebacker depth chart moving forward.

I already mentioned how Notre Dame could now get an extra year from Simon, Bauer and Lamb, but it also means that the talented 2019 class (Marist Liufau, Osita Ekwonu, JD Bertrand, Jack Kiser) gets to restart their eligibility clock. Notre Dame can treat them all like 2020 signees, and even if they play this season they can all count this as their redshirt season.

It’s really strange to ponder and it’s almost hard to grasp, but if the rule holds up as I understand it this could be major for the linebacker depth chart.

Offensive line is another position. I already discussed how it could impact guys like Correll and Spears, but this also grants an extra year for young tackles like Andrew Kristofic and Quinn Carroll, two players who now could conceivably get sixth seasons. If Notre Dame is happy with their development, and if these players express a potential desire to return for the extra season it could impact Notre Dame’s 2022 and 2023 offensive line recruiting.

WHAT ABOUT IAN BOOK

I saved the best part of this discussion for last, and that is how could this ruling impact the future for quarterback Ian Book. What do you do if Book’s NFL feedback is that he’s going to be a late round pickup, or a possible undrafted free agent? Unless he struggles this season, I’d be shocked if the staff wouldn’t want him back for a sixth season, which would be his fourth as a starter. But would Book want to come back, and is there room for him to develop his NFL stock?

This could make for one of the more interesting offseason decisions related to this NCAA ruling.

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