CHICAGO — Count Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz among Big Ten football coaches who like the possibilities presented by recent changes made in redshirt rules for freshmen players.
The change allows true freshmen to compete in up to four games and still be allowed to redshirt without losing a year of eligibility.
The 20th-year Hawkeye coach sees multiple ways the change can benefit rookie collegiate players.
Ferentz likes the idea of being able to give a freshman who has a good preseason camp a taste of what college football is like and see if that player is truly ready to deal with whatever comes his way.
He also doesn’t mind the late-season opportunities that may exist for freshmen who start slowly but improve their game to a point where they are ready to contribute later in the season.
"We’re open to anybody," Ferentz said. "If they can help us win, we’re all for it."
Just how that all fits together for incoming freshmen will play out during upcoming weeks as fall camps begin.
For the player who is more than ready to go and catches the attention of coaches, it could mean early playing time.
"It gives you an opportunity early in the season maybe to test drive somebody and see how they come along," Ferentz said earlier this week at the Big Ten kickoff. "Then, if it doesn’t look like it’s going to work out and materialize, then you can pull back and protect that year."
Iowa played 10 true freshmen in 2017 and of those, only punter Ryan Gersonde appeared in fewer than four games.
Wide receiver Max Cooper is the type of player who fills the flip side of the possibilities. He appeared in six games last season as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes but progressed to the point late in the season where he played in Iowa’s final three games.
"There can be guys who start to ascend during the course of the season, so it’s not necessarily due to injury or attrition. That could happen, but it might just be, ‘This guy’s really coming on, he can help us the last couple of games,’ and I can see using a guy that way," Ferentz said.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sees that as a way to keep true freshmen engaged as they transition to the college game.
"You talk to any young man you recruit and they all want to play," Fitzgerald said. "The hardest year for any young player is the year he sits out as he comes into college. Now, we have the opportunity to motivate them through the opportunity to play and still have the redshirt in place."
Fitzgerald uses his own experience as a linebacker with the Wildcats to put some perspective on the rule.
"I was one of those really below-average guys that played as a true freshman," Fitzgerald said. "I was the best of the worst, and it was not a very good experience for our defense when I was out there. It would have been a lot better if I had only played in four games, I promise you that."
Now coaches find themselves with some additional flexibility.
Coaches welcome the chance to not have to make a redshirt decision about a player in August who eight weeks later is playing at a level where he can help a team.
Indiana coach Tom Allen believes those are the players who will benefit the most from the rule change.
"Every year, there is a guy or two who by late October jumps up and is ready," Allen said. "In that past, you might have protected the redshirt year. Now, you can give the young man a chance to contribute in a handful of games on special teams or whatever and you don’t burn that year."
Ferentz sees that as a welcomed opportunity.
"It’s a change that actually makes some sense," Ferentz said.