Dear Coach – how long am I eligible to play in college? I played for a community college basketball team for the 2008-2009 season, took a break from school to work the next year (2009-2010) , and played again in the 2010-2011 season (but was only a part-time student in the spring once the season ended).
Regardless of where you play, you’re allowed four seasons of competition – but different divisions have different rules about how long you have to use those four seasons.
In Division I, your “clock starts ticking” the first time you practice with an athletic team at any college. Unless you are redshirted or meet certain medical criteria, you have five years until that clock runs down. Once it does, your Division I eligibility expires. In your case, you played one year at a community college, took a year off to work, and then played another year. Your clock has been running for three years – it continued to run even while you were not in school and when you were a part-time student – so you have two left to play. Once the clock starts, it doesn’t stop.
Divisions II and III are a little different; you’re allowed 10 semesters of full-time enrollment to use up your four seasons of eligibility. The semesters don’t have to be consecutive. In your case, you used two (of your ten allowed) semesters during your first year. You didn’t use any while you weren’t in school – and while you used one full season of your four allowed seasons of competition (2010-2011) you only used one semester of your ten. So you have seven remaining semesters of eligibility. But, if you use up your four seasons of competition, you can’t play any more, regardless of how many of the 10 semesters of eligibility you have left.
The NAIA rules are basically the same as Division II and III – you have 10 (not necessarily consecutive) semesters in which to use your eligibility.