Welcome to the first edition of the (rebooted) Weekly Debate, where we look at both sides of a polarizing topic and find out where we stand as a community. Each week will be a different topic ranging from macro topics like this weeks vet vs. youth debate, to micro topics like choosing between two players or position units, and everything in between. If you have any suggestions for debate topics, send me a tweet @JakeBrydson and it may be used in a future Weekly Debate, depending on how good the idea is and how quick my personal well of ideas dries out. (That's a very shallow well, in case you are wondering.)
Starting from high school on, one dilemma that plagues every depth chart is "Who wins the tie?" and as you go up to the higher levels, the decisions become harder and harder. Sure, choosing between a 14 year old and 17 year old can be very tough (this was depicted very well in the TV version of Friday Night Lights, where Coach Taylor had to decide between his senior leader and a hot-shot freshman wildcard. No matter who he chose, someone thought he was wrong.) but choosing between two adults that you convinced to come play for your program, sometimes moving from hundreds of miles away, can turn your hair gray. There is no formula for this, but a general rule of thumb for consistency is almost required to not look like a hypocrite, as these decisions are going to come along early and often.
The situation is: An upperclassman who has been in the program for three or more years (Redshirt Sophomore rarely, and a player with two years of eligibility or less in most situations) is deeply entrenched in a position battle with a newcomer who has been in the program for two years or less, though both have equal inexperience in terms of actual playing experience. Neither has taken many snaps, if any, and their talent levels are equal to each other in terms of what they bring to the table. Do you go with the younger player who will be there longer in the future, or the older player that has been there longer in the past?
Why you should go young:
Three years from now, when that freshman is a senior, they'll have an extra year under their belt and they'll be more battle tested. The growing pains are years behind them and they're been through the fire, experiencing successes and failures at the highest level and growing as a player. They're grizzled at that point and no matter what comes at them, they shouldn't be phased. Not to mention, the rapport built between the staff and player will be incredibly strong from the day the decision is made until they suit up for the last time.
From a team culture standpoint, you're showing every single underclassman on the team that they won't be discriminated against and if they're good enough, they'll get their opportunity when they deserve it. Young players won't coast through their early years because there won't be an expectation to wait until you're a junior or senior for your turn. The upperclassmen might be negatively effected where they could become paranoid that they could lose their spot at the whim of a coach's decision, but that's collateral damage that's unavoidable, and they'll be forced to either separate from the pack or else. Plus, they'll be gone soon regardless, and at that point the upperclassmen you have will be experienced and hopefully better because of the experience, so there will be less of the battles between upperclassmen and freshmen, and any battles will feature freshmen just kick the cycle back off again, and that position becomes even stronger down the line.
A good example of this working out would be when Jaydon Mickens, who saw the field as a freshman and was 4th on the team in receptions that season. As a sophomore, he had 65 catches and last year's 60 catches carried a young receiver group that needed every single one of them. If he had been trapped behind Kevin Smith and Kasen Williams for two seasons just because they were older (and Kasen's injury forced him to take on a larger role, but that's neither here nor there) who knows if he would have been ready to carry a passing game at the level he was forced to do last season.
Why you should go experienced:
Even if they've never seen live action, someone who has been on campus for three years has at least been competing against collegiate level athletes in practice for years, as opposed to a freshman who could have spent the past four years bullying 5'9" 190 lb defensive ends or outrunning corners who couldn't break 4.9 in the 40. Even if they're equal in talent, the chances of the experienced vet getting shell-shocked in his first live collegiate action is a whole lot less than the guy who hasn't ever been anyone but the best player on the field. It's easy to overlook how tough growing pains are when you're looking back at them, but when you're going through them, it can feel like the world is collapsing around you. Furthermore, those "growing pains" can easily stack up to be reasons why you lose games, and that creates even more external pressure on your guys to perform, which can lead to a domino effect where you could crumble as an entire team.
When they do great though, and an upperclassman who has been there working hard every day for years is out there as a solid contributor for your team, there's no better feeling for your team. Instead of motivating your younger players by dangling the playing time carrot, you show them that no matter where you're at, you can end up at the top if you stick it out long enough. Your players on the field aren't out there hoping that if they hit a magic number of snaps they'll become All-Americans, but instead the ones who are out there are guys who have scratched and clawed and waited for years to even get an opportunity. They're going to play hard because they've been on that sideline and watched and they don't want to go back. Their perspective is different from the 18 or 19 year old who just kind of assumed that they would play when they got on campus and never had a wake-up call, so to speak. And when it comes down to it and the chips are on the table, do you really care about three years down the road? Don't mortgage tomorrow for today, because tomorrow is never guaranteed.