When Ryan Houston was cleared to play following a what was essentially a five game suspension for "something academic related" which may or may not have included wrongdoing, the idea of a redshirt was plenty clean cut. In fact, I think most of us sort of blew off Butch Davis saying that Houston might be pressed into service if injuries played a role in the season. I mean how bad would UNC's luck have for injuries to make Houston's redshirt kindling? Wait, don't answer that. As it turns out, the Heels' win in Tallahassee exacted a huge price. Senior TB Johnny White was lost for the game and season with a broken clavicle. Fellow seniors Shaun Draughn and Anthony Elzy suffered maladies of some sort with Elzy missing a few plays before coming back. That left UNC leaning on Hunter Freaking Furr who turned out to be the 2nd coming of Natrone Means, for at least three plays anyway.
When asked about Houston's status on Monday, Butch Davis said it is possible the senior ends up playing in the final four games of the season. That decision would be predicated if Draughn is able to play on Saturday versus Virginia Tech. With Draughn, UNC have two deep at RB with Furr as the backup and Elzy backing up fullback Curtis Byrd. If Draughn is unable to play then matters get dicey. Does UNC move Elzy back to RB with Furr as the backup and use other personnel to backup Byrd? Or do you leave the fullback depth intact and bring Houston in as the start at RB? Given the factors it is a tough call to say the least, all of which Butch Davis has to weigh before making a decision.
The first factor is Houston himself. There is no doubt in my mind Davis would love to do right by Houston by affording him a full season in 2011 instead of having his senior year be comprised of three regular season games and a bowl. Houston would probably love to come back next season and be "the guy" in the backfield. The problem with burning the redshirt is it comes off as extremely unfair to Houston. It just does not seem right to have him only play a few games in his last season. However the unpleasantness which consumed multiple players this season created this dilemma. Now, I have no idea whether Houston did anything wrong or not. The honor court had, at their disposal, the option to put a player on probation while permitting him to continue to represent UNC on the field. What would obviously mean Houston did something wrong to warrant discipline. Then again he may not have, we just do not know. Regardless, I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that a player is not entitled to his redshirt if found guilty by the honor court. That being said, there is less sympathy for Houston flaming redshirt if the mess was a his own doing. Since we do not know, that is a non-factor and I doubt enters into Davis' deliberations on the matter. In short, the fair thing for Houston is to get the extra season giving it would be his last.
Another factor in all of this is next season. UNC is staring at serious attrition in the backfield via graduation. There will be other options coming off injury like A.J. Blue and Giovani Bernard. Jamal Womble will also be rejoining the team after spending some time in junior college. Put these guys together with Furr and you have a lot of questions about running game. Fortunately, UNC will bring back good receivers and hopefully Bryn Renner will be as good as T.J. Yates has been this season. Still, having an experience back like Houston would help tremendously. Having Houston as an option for next season would gives the Heels a little more stability in the rushing attack than they will have otherwise.
The final angle on this discussion is the here and now which might be the only relevant factor where this discussion is concerned. When it comes to personnel decisions like this, any head coach's primary responsibility is to the team and season in front of him right now. That does not mean a coach is heartless or is adopting a win at all costs attitude. However, there is a tremendous obligation to the current players to do everything possible to validate the work they have put in since August by making the most of the season. In other words there is a little Star Trek II in play here with "the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few or the one." As much as it would be nice to give Houston his senior season back and set the table for next season, there is no way of knowing what the next season will hold. One interesting note from Davis is the fact Houston appears to fully understand his obligation to his teammates and the importance of the current season. Davis said Houston told him had he been in Tallahassee on Saturday, he would have gone into the game. That is a stand-up move on Houston's part. It speaks volumes about his loyalty to his teammates not to mention his competitive nature.
So what should Butch Davis do? As he noted in his press conference, it will come down to Draughn's availability. By that you can certainly infer Davis is placing a premium on the current season even if it means Houston's career ends with just a four game season. Hopefully Draughn will be healthy and UNC can keep Houston sidelined. Having him next season would be a boon though given the current hot streak I have no problem with all the stops being pulled out to get the most out of the current season.