NCAA providing free year of eligibility for fall sport athletes affected by pandemic, including football

The NCAA has provided clarity on the eligibility situations for college athletes whose fall seasons were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Following recommendations made by the NCAA’s Division I Council on Wednesday, the D-I Board of Governors approved giving all fall sport athletes “both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it” via a blanket waiver.

In simpler terms, fall sport athletes are essentially being given a free year of eligibility. That includes football, a sport that will almost certainly see an increase in roster size. The decision also affects men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, field hockey and cross country.

Ordinarily, college athletes have five years to complete four seasons of competition. Now, athletes in fall sports will have six years to play five. Seniors who use the additional year of eligibility won’t count against team financial aid limits for 2021-22.

The D-I Council initially planned to recommend giving athletes who opted out of the fall season an extension of their five-year eligibility period and an additional season of competition to athletes who participated in less than 50 percent of their sport’s maximum number of competitions. Since then, though, several conferences — including the Big Ten, Mid-American, Mountain West and Pac-12 — have voted to postpone fall sports. That caused the Council to “be even more flexible.”

“We continue to be committed to providing opportunities wherever possible,” said M. Grace Calhoun, the chair of the D-I Council.

Final Four flag fly over the headquarter of the NCAA in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
The NCAA could essentially allow a free year of eligibility for fall-sport athletes whose seasons are affected by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Division I will try to host fall championships in spring

As long as health conditions permit, Division I will attempt to host “scaled back” fall championships during the spring, as recommended by the D-I Council. It is a measure that affects FCS football, but not FBS.

“The board acknowledged that its action pertained to fall championships only and that the final decisions on bracket sizes and composition will be approved by the board,” an NCAA press release said. “Members directed the Council, the Division I Competition Oversight Committee and the Division I Football Oversight Committee to work on models for championships in the impacted fall sports.”

Additionally, Division I hopes to “preserve opportunities” for winter and spring sport athletes who did not have the chance to participate in their respective sport’s championships earlier this year.

12-hour football schedule approved for teams not playing in fall

For football teams not playing this fall, a 12-hour weekly schedule as recommended by the Football Oversight Committee was formally adopted by the D-I Council on Wednesday. The move applies to both FBS and FCS programs who are planning to compete in the spring and is effective Aug. 24 through Oct. 4. Each week will have two required days off.

The 12-hour figure will be studied further by the oversight committee to “determine appropriate levels of countable athletics activity for the remainder of the year.”

Here is the breakdown of those 12 hours, via the NCAA:

No more than five of those hours can be skill instruction, during which footballs, helmets and spider pads can be used. No contact would be allowed, but strength and conditioning, team, position and individual meetings and film review would be allowed within the 12-hour weekly limit. A four-hour daily limit on athletics activities is included.

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, the chair of the Football Oversight Committee, told ESPN that the 12-hour model was a compromise. The committee felt 20 hours was too much.

At least one coach, Penn State’s James Franklin, is not a fan.

“I don’t agree at all with the 12 hours. That makes no sense that other teams are going to be playing a season and we're only going to get to work with our guys for 12 hours,” Franklin said during a videoconference with reporters earlier Wednesday.

Other recommendations from D-I Council

The D-I Council made several other recommendations on Wednesday, which were formally approved by the Board of Directors on Friday:

These protections are effective immediately.

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