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August 27, 2020

Fall Eligibility Update Amidst COVID-19

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Last Friday, the NCAA announced that all fall athletes will receive eligibility relief amidst COVID-19. While this sounds like a free ticket to an extra season of eligibility, there are still important sub points to the statement that athletes should be aware of moving forward. Here are three things current college athletes who play a fall sport need to know:

1.)   The NCAA has promised that all fall athletes can receive extra eligibility. The NCAA’s most recent announcement on athlete eligibility extends to every athlete competing in a fall sport, regardless of whether or not he or she is competing this year. For example, although some conferences are electing to compete this fall (such as the Big 12, SEC, ACC, and many mid-major conferences who have not postponed their seasons), those athletes will still receive an extra year of eligibility, along with athletes who fall under conferences that have chosen to cancel or postpone their seasons. All fall athletes will receive eligibility relief. 

2.)   The NCAA is offering a blanket eligibility waiver, which is different from what the Association did this past March when it merely offered extra eligibility to spring sport athletes at the discretion of their school. In essence, that announcement gave schools the right to approve or deny eligibility to spring athletes, and not all universities were generous with their extra freedom—shortly after that announcement, Wisconsin athletic director, Barry Alvarez, denied UW athletes extra eligibility, stating on a local radio show that senior athletes should “graduate and move on with your life.” It appears that the NCAA’s latest mandate won’t allow schools to do that, but athletes still need to talk to their coaches about extra eligibility, because… 

3.)   There is no guarantee that fall athletes will receive additional scholarship funding if they choose to pursue an extra season of competition. The NCAA might have temporarily lifted roster limits, but athletic departments will likely be tightening their belts in the near future. This means that even if fall athletes receive extra eligibility, their schools do not have to offer funding for their additional year, particularly if an athlete is on a one-year, renewable scholarship. In those situations, what a coach might do is let an athlete take an extra season of eligibility without scholarship funding, especially if that coach has pledged a scholarship to an up-and-coming freshman. It’s also possible that coaches will offer scholarship extensions to athletes who opt for an extra season—it’s just unlikely, given the potential financial fallout in wake of the coronavirus. 

As usual, collegiate athletics are in flux thanks to the current pandemic, and NCAA news is always subject to change, especially looking forward to fall and spring sports. For now, it’s important for fall athletes to remember that extra eligibility does not guarantee extra funding, and they must discuss these logistics with their coaches to know what their extra season will look like financially. 

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