“I'm anti-that,” he says. “Kids like to play and I like to play them.”
Wilson isn't just saying that. He's played 35 true freshmen in his first three years with the Hoosiers (16 in his debut season), and won't be shy about playing more this season. It's a lesson learned from his time at Oklahoma with coach Bob Stoops.
“If you play freshmen, and they merit play, and you're not wasting a year with a few special teams chances or spotty games, if they play a lot they'll do better in school,” Wilson says. “They'll do better off the field. They'll do better in the off-season, and they'll be better next season.
“You can say, they might be better five years down the road if you don't play them the first year, but if you take away the one thing they really want to do, which is play, I'm not for that.”
Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke says research shows many football and basketball freshmen aren't ready for college academic challenges, and that a year without the pressure of playing would help.
“Athletes in those sports are coming into the (college academic) system at a much lower preparation level than the other sports,” Burke says.“If you look at the eligibility data, as I have, and the graduation rate data, as I have, and if you're really being truthful with the student athlete, maybe you have to seriously consider it.”
Rob Hummel would rather you didn't. The former Purdue basketball standout, now a member of the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves, started as a freshman — one of four to do so — and helped the Boilers finish as Big Ten runner-ups.
“I'd want to play right away. I was looking to play as soon as I could.”
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell relied on numerous true freshmen last season in his Boiler debut. That included quarterback Danny Etling and receiver DeAngelo Yancey, and they emerged as two of the Boilers' most productive players. It's likely that a pair of highly touted freshman linebackers — Ja'Wan Bentley and Gelen Robinson — will see significant action this season.
“If you have holes and need help right away, you'd like to be able to play (freshmen),” Hazell says. “If they can help you, play them. That's where I stand.”
Wilson says playing early helps rather than hurts academic performance.
“I know some people in our conference are very strong that (making freshmen ineligible) would help them academically. We've done better than we've ever done by playing kids early. I've seen kids' grades who haven't played and their grades are worse.
“In my world, when you see guys who quit, it's usually the guys who haven't played. They'll say I've been lifting weights, I've been running, I've been getting up at 6 in the morning. It's hard to do all that. It's hard to go to class, do all this work and then you don't play.”
IU has a need for receivers, and freshmen such as Dominique Booth, J-Shun Harris and Simmie Cobbs are set to help immediately. There will be others, Wilson says.
“I anticipate a fair amount of freshmen playing right away. They're good enough. It helps competition. It helps special teams. It helps depth. And it helps them.”
Making freshmen ineligible would likely create a push for more scholarships for football (currently at 85) and basketball (now at 13) to ensure there would be enough depth among eligible players. That would, in turn, increase overall costs.
Purdue volleyball coach Dave Shondell is concerned that would hurt mid-major schools, which lack power conference financial resources, and potentially hurt non-revenue sports because of the money drain going to football and basketball.
“Now you're widening the gap (between major and mid-major schools),” Shondell says. “Now you're talking about cutting sports. These things have to be discussed.”
If freshman ineligibility happens, Hummel says, players will have to adjust.
“If that's the way it is, what are you going to do about it? It will be interesting to see if they make that rule change.”