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Bison football all in favor of new NCAA rule allowing true freshmen to play

FARGO—The life of a true freshman football player at North Dakota State changed on Wednesday. A new stipulation passed by the NCAA this week will allow those players to play up to four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility.

The motion was approved by the Division I Council, a move that NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen expected to go through. But just not this quick. It applies to both the FBS and NDSU's FCS.

"I expected it to be for next year, but I guess the more you think about it, why not?" Larsen said. "The season is still a couple of months away so I think it's a great thing."

The proposal was tabled at a meeting in April over concerns about timing, the number of games and the possible effect to other sports, according to the NCAA. But Larsen said the concept was well received in February in a Missouri Valley Football Conference meeting of athletic directors and football coaches and his feeling is the support was there for it nationwide.

Also on board was the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees, a panel of 19 coaches in which NDSU head football coach Chris Klieman is an FCS representative.

"All of us in Division I football are going to be really happy," Klieman said.

It still will create some decisions, Klieman said, in deciding whether to play a true freshman early in the season, midseason or wait until later. Most likely, the move will involve running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs more than players who play near the line of scrimmage just because of the physical nature of the game.

"There are a lot of variables but we're happy to have those variables," Klieman said. "One thing we talked about is it keeps them all engaged through the entire season now because you never know when your number is going to be called."

That's what Division I Council chair Blake James, the athletic director at Miami (Fla.), told NCAA.com.

"And the starters will be less likely to feel pressure to play through injuries," James said. "Coaches will appreciate the additional flexibility and ability to give younger players an opportunity to participate in limited competition."

Klieman said the "player safety model" was heavily discussed, with this proposal a helpful deterrent in not putting kids out on the field who could potentially put themselves in harm's way because of an injury.

"It's going to help the integrity of the game," he said.

Last year, in the FCS national title game against James Madison, the Bison dressed 56 players out of a maximum allowable of 70 because of injuries.

A few players that did redshirt may have been able to help the Bison on special teams, Klieman said. He pointed to true freshman safety Michael Tutsie, who Klieman said would have been valuable in the playoffs.

"It also gives you a chance where maybe a kid who is going to be a real contributor (the following year) as a redshirt freshman gain some experience," Larsen said. "Get him in the dome, see what the crowd is like, see what the speed of this level of football is and he'll be that much better the following year. So I think there are a lot of benefits outside of injuries."

Jeff Kolpack

Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.

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