Taking the fifth

It's time for a change in NCAA rules.

Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior.

Four names for the four years it takes to get a college degree. There's only one problem – it no longer takes four years to get a college degree. It takes almost five. Yes, the average college student takes 4.8 years to graduate.

So what in the world do we do about all those students that are in their fifth year of college? First of all, we really do need to come up with a name for that fifth year. However, the main thing is that those students have the ability to use that fifth year to graduate.

And just as we should give a student five years to graduate, we likewise should give a student-athlete five years to participate in athletics.

Several conferences recently have proposed legislation that would give student-athletes five years of eligibility. Under current NCAA rules a student-athlete has only four years to participate during a five-year period.

In college football, this rule leads to quick evaluation of a freshman's readiness – physical and emotional – to play.

If he is determined to be definitely ready, he is moved on to the depth chart and given an opportunity to compete immediately for a starting or backup position.

If a player is deemed not ready, he is told he most likely will be redshirted and is moved to the practice/scout/look/hamburger squad for the length of the season.

However, if a freshman is in between, if the coaches aren't quite sure if he is ready to play or not, then they must resort to a third strategy. The player is given as much work in practice as possible to get him ready. Then, in the first three games (any more is considered a full year of eligibility), he gets as much playing time as possible.

If he shows that he can continue to help the team, he will remain on the depth chart and in the game plan. If he doesn't pan out then he incurs some type of "injury" and applies for a medical hardship – to get a fifth year of eligibility.

Why don't we all just come clean and do what's right for the student-athlete? It takes five years to graduate so give him five years to play football. Let him develop at his own speed.

If he needs the first half of his freshman year to acclimate himself to college life, let him do so and then play the last few games without wasting an entire year of eligibility. If he has family problems in the middle of his senior year let him deal with it without worrying that his college career will be over.

Don't tell me the current "five years to play four" policy is in the best academic interest of the athlete. Most coaches will tell you that when a student-athlete is held out for an entire season, he loses interest in being part of the team and subsequently loses interest in his school work as well. It is best to keep his head in the game by helping him feel that there always is a chance he will be able to contribute to the team.

Besides, look at the changes that have just been made to the schedule. We have added a 12th regular-season game, and we're extending the season into the second week of January. You talk about prioritizing academics. Gimme a dadgum break!

More games. Longer season. Let's find a way where the student-athlete can play ball and go to school. Let's do something that's not about us but about him. It takes five years to get a college education. Let's give him five years to play football.

Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Winner.