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Mizzou Football: What if new NCAA redshirt rules existed in the Corby Jones era?

ST. LOUIS, MO- Last week, the NCAA announced a change to rules governing athletes who are redshirted, allowing football players to participate in as many as four games without losing a season’s worth of eligibility.  They’ll have five years to play four seasons.

“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,” Division I Council Chair and Miami Athletic Director Blake James said in a news release. “Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition.”

The new rule also figures to take the phrase “burning a redshirt” out of the football vernacular. It’s a phrase former Missouri Quarterback Corby Jones knows well. In 1995, Head Coach Larry Smith was coming off a 3-8-1 inaugural campaign but had won important offseason recruiting battles to get commitments from Jones, a highly touted Hickman High School prospect, and SLUH’s John MacArthur, two national quarterback recruits.

Midway through the ’95 season, Smith’s club was 2-3 and had limited QB options with any experience behind starter Brendan Corso.

With a road-trip to #2 Nebraska on tap, the decision was made to put Jones behind the center. It’s easy to see it as a panic move, especially in today’s climate where a coach 5-11-1 through a season and a half might not see year three. But back then, in those days? Harder to say.

With his own history as a guide, Jones told FOX2 he absolutely would have wanted the option back then. “One of the biggest reasons Coach Smith pulled my redshirt was to reflect a changing of guard and give our fans hope for the future,” Jones said in an email interview.  “Other than saving me from being the proverbial sacrificial lamb against that absurdly talented Nebraska team, the new redshirt rule would’ve provided me the following 4 games worth of experience, while allowing me to retain that year of eligibility.”

The Tigers lost 57-0 to the Cornhuskers, had close losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, blowout losses to KU, Colorado and Kansas State before winning the finale against Iowa State.

What did Jones have to show for six games? Four rushing touchdowns, 14 completions on 42 attempts for 134 yards and 4 interceptions. The team finished 3-8.

The following year saw two more wins, leading up to the back-to-back bowl seasons in 1997 and 1998. But in 1999, with Jones and several other key players gone, and unable to reap the recruiting windfall from a brief return to prominence, the team slid back and Smith was ultimately fired after the 2000 season.

“Assuming that I would have remained healthy, there is no doubt that I would have been a far greater asset in my 5th year than in my 1st,” Jones concluded.

The conventional wisdom going around the college football world seems to suggest that  coaches will use the early season schedule, typically against weaker opponents, to test a true freshman’s ability to contribute. But one could also see the merit in doing it later in the season, once the athlete is more acclimated to the college level, as injuries mount. If more players skip bowl games to guard their NFL draft prospects, the idea of playing in a postseason game without losing a season of eligibility might be an attractive carrot to dangle for a true freshman who has spent the year on a scout team, especially in this era of constant transfers.