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College football players can now play up to 4 games without burning a redshirt

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Coaches had long pushed for this rule. Now, it’s real.

NCAA Football: Georgia Spring Game
Spring games have been the closest thing to game action for a lot of redshirting freshmen. Now, more of them will probably get to play in real games
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Division I football players are now allowed to play in up to four games in a season while keeping a redshirt and not losing a year of eligibility. The NCAA previously considered a redshirt burned if a player took the field for a single play of live action in any game.

The NCAA announced the change Wednesday. Miami athletic director Blake James, the chairman of the Division I Council that passed the rule change, explains it:

“This change promotes not only fairness for college athletes, but also their health and well-being. Redshirt football student-athletes are more likely to remain engaged with the team, and starters will be less likely to feel pressure to play through injuries. Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition.”

The American Football Coaches Association, the closest thing coaches have to a lobbying organization, has been pushing hard for this change over the last year or two. So have a bunch of individual coaches, who have painted it as a win for both themselves and players.

“I absolutely would be in favor of that,” Nick Saban told reporters at the SEC’s spring meetings in 2016. “One of the most difficult things for players is they can’t play at all when they’re freshmen to be able to gain a redshirt year. They all want to play.

This would give them an opportunity to play some and would actually enhance their development to some degree. With the numbers we have right now and the number of games we’re playing, you might be able to play a few more players in some of those games. That would help other players on your team as well.”

Previously, the only way players could play in games and not lose a season of eligibility was if they’d gotten hurt and not been able to play in more than three games.

The NCAA’s general rule that players complete their four seasons of eligibility in a five-year calendar period remains in place.