In June, the CAA football conference decided to back a plan to provide a 5th year of eligibility for football players in the Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA). Unlike other NCAA sports, where athletes may only play four full seasons of eligibility, if the CAA's measure passes, players in the Championship Subdivision would be able to play in games across five different seasons without receiving any waiver from the NCAA.
The measure would effectively replace the redshirt year for FCS athletes. In many cases freshmen sit on the bench for a season when they might otherwise be able to play sparingly in order to save their eligibility for later dates and games when they are expected to be bigger, stronger, faster and more "ready" to play. Sometimes a sophomore or junior who misses a few games due to injury is redshirted and held out of the last few games of the year in order to give them a chance to play four full seasons instead of three and a half.
The use of the NCAA "redshirt" is commonplace throughout NCAA sports. A player is on a team, but does not play. He can practice, but will have no impact on games.
If the CAA has it's way, however, the redshirt in FCS football would cease to exist.
The NCAA allows players a 5-year window of eligibility for college athletics, of which a player may use any four years to play a given sport. A famous example of how that window operates was the case of Gregg Paulus, the four-year basketball guard at Duke, who enrolled at Syracuse University after graduation and spent a year playing Quarterback for the Orange football team -- it didn't matter that Paulus had exhausted four years of eligibility in basketball, since the NCAA offers five years to be a student-athlete.
Under the CAA's plan, players transferring down from FBS programs wouldn't necessarily gain an extra year of eligibility. The new rule is more so designed to benefit and reward those players who choose to start their college careers at FCS schools and then stay in the subdivision. A redshirt year at an FBS school would be a year of used eligibility in the sport upon a transfer, for example, and a player will be required to spend two years at the "certifying institution."
A four-year FBS player would not be able to transfer to an FCS school t play an additional year, but a player who spent one year at a Bowl Subdivision school could ultimately play four more years in the Championship Subdivision. Furthermore, players who complete a degree over four years at an FCS school would not be able to play a fifth year at another FCS school while pursuing a graduate degree.
It might be possible for some FCS players to obtain a medical redshirt through an application for a "hardship waiver" from the NCAA. That process would not change and the NCAA would apply the same criteria to determine whether a players' case warranted an additional year of eligibility to extend the 5-year clock that the NCAA operates under. Any extension of those five years would not be within a school's discretion, however.
For Villanova, the school has run into issues with the current redshirt system a few times, recently. Depth issues during the 2009 National Championship run almost lead the Wildcats to pull a redshirt off of a player during the NCAA championship game -- a move that would have cost the player an entire season of eligibility for the chance to play in a single game. Last season, Andy Talley had initially hoped to use a redshirt on senior running back Lawrence Doss to allow him to play the next two seasons, but they were on a run and trying to win games, so he used Doss.
With a standard 5th year of eligibility, Doss wouldn't be forced out of the program after this fall, and a player wouldn't have to worry about trading an entire season for one game anymore.
In order for the measure to become an NCAA rule, it must pass a vote of the NCAA Division 1 membership. That would include schools in the Bowl Subdivision that would not benefit from the new rule. Similar rule changes have been proposed in the past, by the ACC and OVC, but have never been brought to a vote.