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Unique decisions looming for Indiana football’s seniors and coaches in light of NCAA eligibility waiver

It is one of our first postseason stories every year.

Our annual position-by-position look at who is returning to the IU football program for the next season is an instructive process to help build appropriate expectations and identity potential strengths and weaknesses.

This year, at least right now anyway, that process would be a fool’s errand.

Back in August the NCAA passed a blanket eligibility waiver for all fall athletes.  Under that directive, all fall sport student-athletes will receive both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it.

But that doesn’t mean each player will choose to come back.  Or from what is no doubt a bit more awkward angle — it doesn’t mean each player will be invited to come back.

One things is certain — IU doesn’t have a lot of players who in a typical year would have just exhausted their final season of eligibility.  Here are the 13 Hoosiers on scholarship who currently fit that description:

  • Jovan Swann (DL)
  • Kham Taylor (TE)
  • Haydon Whitehead (P)
  • Marcelino Ball (DB)
  • Mackenzie Nworah (OL)
  • Dylan Powell (OL) (already granted sixth year)
  • Jared Smolar (K)
  • Jerome Johnson (DL)
  • Raheem Layne (DB)
  • Whop Philyor (WR)
  • Ty Fryfogle (WR)
  • Harry Crider (OL)
  • Michael Ziemba (DL)

For the most part that is a list of players that you have to believe Indiana would like to have back.

We don’t know yet for sure how Indiana is going to handle these situations.  Will there be player-by-player announcements or a blanket announcement on who is coming back and leaving?  It isn’t difficult to imagine that with so many individuals involved, details will start to leak out.

Clearly some decisions will be player driven.  Ty Fryfogle certainly has a lot of momentum that he could seemingly capitalize on if he is ready to put his name in the NFL Draft.  Marcelino Ball seems more likely to seize on a lost year and return to college for his own final NFL push.  And for a select few, it may just be time to move on, whether to another school or simply to get on with life.

Photo by Mike Schumann / The Daily Hoosier

IU coach Tom Allen said the process will play itself out in the coming weeks.

“A lot of those seniors are going to make a decision, give them an opportunity to come back,” Allen said on Saturday after the Outback Bowl.  “Some will, some won’t. We’ll know for sure here in the next couple weeks. Either way we’re going to love and support them, whatever they feel is best for them and their future, we’ll talk that through with them.”

Some decisions have seemingly already been made.  Allen hinted in December that Raheem Layne will be back with the team in 2021.  Mike Ziemba implied his return in a social media post when he said “let’s get back to work” on Sunday.

The allowable scholarships for the 2021 roster increase with each of these players that decides to return.  So for the most part, you would think that the decision is relatively easy from IU’s perspective.  But no doubt there are nuances, such as clearing the path for younger players and perhaps helping some find a better fit for their final season.

However things play out, Allen and his staff will always have a unique bond with this group.  The 2020 season didn’t go as planned for anyone, but it was no doubt particularly frustrating for veterans trying to figure out their next move in life.  That they persevered and delivered one of the more memorable seasons in program history will leave a lasting impression.

“Bottom line, a special group of guys. Love each and every one of them, respect them, love what they’ve given to the program,” Allen said.  “Unfortunate, they didn’t get to have a Senior Day. Nothing has felt normal at all. First time we had fans other than parents at a game. Great to hear the crowd cheering. They missed all that. All these big wins we’ve gotten at home or on the road, to have nobody there for a lot of those, it’s tough. But this is a special group. I’m proud of these guys. Just want them to know that. The guys that choose to move on, we’ll wish them nothing but great things in the future.”

“Been a challenging year. Even though we’ve done some amazing things, got chances to win a lot of great games that this group will always be remembered for. They are a special group. To lay a tremendous foundation for next year, I’m excited about next year.”

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