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NCAA close to providing free year of eligibility for fall sport athletes

Arkansas graduate transfer DT Xavier Kelly.
Arkansas graduate transfer DT Xavier Kelly. (Arkansas Athletics)

The NCAA is progressing toward providing clarity on the eligibility situations for college athletes whose fall seasons were affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA’s Division I Council on Wednesday presented an array of recommendations to the D-I Board of Governors for approval. The most impactful recommendation is to give all fall sport athletes “both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it.”

In simpler terms, fall sport athletes would essentially be given a free year of eligibility should the Board of Governors approve the proposal as expected on Friday. That includes football, along with 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 they will likely have six years to play five seasons of eligibility. 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 if they participate in less than 50 percent of their sport’s maximum number of competitions. Since then, though, several conferences — including the Big Ten 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.

Other Recommendations from DI Council

- Schools should be prohibited from requiring student-athletes to waive legal rights regarding COVID-19 as a condition of athletics participation.

- Schools should be prohibited from canceling or reducing athletics scholarships if a college athlete in any sport opts not to participate due to COVID-19.

- That student-athletes who do not enroll full time during the 2020 fall term be provided some flexibility in the progress-toward-degree requirements that must be met for eligibility in future terms.

- The financial aid of fall sport senior student-athletes who take advantage of the additional year of eligibility and extended clock should not count against team limits in 2021-22.