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What the NCAA Extra Year of Eligibility Means for Recruiting

Impact of Coronavirus on College Recruiting: The NCAA has continued its suspension of all in-person recruiting through January 1; D2 and D3 levels have resumed their normal recruiting calendars. The NCAA also granted an extra year of eligibility to college seniors. In addition, due to the closure of college campuses, official and unofficial visits as well as college camps are on hold. NCSA will continue to provide updated information on our coronavirus resources section.

The NCAA Division 1, 2 and 3 levels have all provided an update on extended eligibility relief to fall sport athletes who plan to compete in the 2020-21 season. With the uncertainty around whether or not the 2020-21 sports season will continue as planned during the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA is offering student-athletes an opportunity to receive an extra year of eligibility if they opt-out of competing in the 2020-21 season or their team’s season is cut short before completing 50% of their scheduled competitions. Below we take a look at how each division level is handling eligibility relief and how this impacts college recruiting for coaches and student-athletes.

Who is eligible for an extra year of eligibility?

  • (Aug 19) All NCAA Division 1 fall sports athletes who opt-out of the season or whose teams complete less than 50% of their scheduled season
  • (July 22) All NCAA Division 2 athletes, as long as their team does not complete 50% or more of their scheduled games
  • (July 9) All NCAA Division 3 athletes, as long as their team does not complete 50% of more of their scheduled games
  • (Aug 9) The NAIA has granted an extra semester for all fall sports senior athletes to allow them to compete in the spring. They have not provided an extra year of eligibility. 

eligibility offerings

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The difference between Division 1 and Division 2 & 3 extra eligibility

Division 1 athletes will receive an extra year of eligibility, as long as the athlete does not compete in more than 50% of the scheduled competitions. Division 2 and 3 athletes will receive an extra year of eligibility, as long as the team does not compete in more than 50% of the scheduled competitions. This means D1 athletes and teams will have to discuss together how to or if they should preserve eligibility for their athletes. D2 and D3 athletes will have less flexibility in trying to maintain eligibility because, as long as their team plays, that year of competition will count against their eligibility. 

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What does an extra year of eligibility mean?

Traditionally, a student-athlete has 5 years to play 4 years of their sport. An extra year means a current college student-athlete would have 6 years to play their 4 years. As long as the athlete (D1) or their team (D2 & D3) does not complete more than 50% of their scheduled games, then this year of competition will not count towards the 4 year limit.  

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How will this change college coaches’ recruiting needs for fall sports?

With every Division 1 fall athlete eligible to return for the 2021-22 season, as long as they don’t compete in more than 50% of their scheduled games, some coaches may curve their recruiting efforts to focus on bringing back existing players and recruiting transfers who have collegiate competition experience. In a recent survey we sent to college coaches, 22% said they expect to recruit more transfer students. Until coaches know how many seniors intend to return for an additional year, we won’t know the full impact of the NCAA’s eligibility relief.

Division 2 and 3 programs may have a better understanding of how many seniors will have the option to return for an additional year based on the number of athletes who opt out of the 2020-21 season. Of course, if a Division 2 or 3 team starts their season, but is unable to complete at least 50% of the scheduled competitions, then all athletes will be eligible to return for the 2021-22 season. This means that recruits will need to pay close attention to the 2020-21 roster and whether or not a team’s season is canceled mid-way through to determine how many athletes will be eligible to return for an extra year. 

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How will this change college coaches’ recruiting needs for spring sports?

As a result of the NCAA’s eligibility relief, coaches’ recruiting needs for the 2021 class may change, as there is now an opportunity for senior athletes to compete for an additional year. While it’s still uncertain how many Division 1, 2 & 3 spring sport athletes will take advantage of an additional year to compete, college coaches were split when asked if they expect seniors to return for an extra year of eligibility, with 43% of spring sports coaches expecting seniors to return for an extra year of eligibility.

  • (Mar 30) All NCAA Division 1 spring sports athletes were granted an additional year of eligibility due to the loss of their season.
  • (Mar 20) All NCAA Division 2 spring sports athletes were granted an additional year of eligibility due to the loss of their season.
  • (Mar 13) All NCAA Division 3 spring sports athletes were granted an additional year of eligibility due to the loss of their season.

View more details on the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility for spring sport athletes.

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How will this change college coaches’ recruiting needs for winter sports?

Both the NCAA Division 1 and 2 committees declined to extend eligibility for winter sport athletes who competed in the 2019-20 season. It’s still unclear how the coronavirus pandemic will impact the 2020-21 season, but we do know where the Division 1 and 2 committees stand on eligibility relief for winter athletes. While the NCAA’s eligibility announcement only commented on eligibility for spring and fall athletes, the Division 1 and 2 committees have said all athletes set to compete in the 2020-21 season will be granted an extra year of eligibility if their team completes less than 50% of their scheduled season.

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What about athletic scholarships?  

There are two factors that control the availability of scholarships at the D1 and D2 levels. The NCAA scholarship limits per sport and whether or not the school is fully funded. For D1 fall sports, seniors who have scholarships and who will be using the extra year of eligibility will not count against the team's scholarship limit for the 2021-22 season. The D2 level has not provided any waivers, so there is no potential for D2 programs to offer additional scholarship money for fall sports recruits. 

This does not mean a college will go over the limit of maximum scholarships. Each school will decide how many scholarships they can fund for each team depending on their budget. In a recent survey, 80% of college coaches said they do not plan on cutting scholarships as part of their budget cutting measures. For recruits pursuing an athletic scholarship, hopefully this means the maximum, and possibly over the maximum number of scholarships, will be available for the 2021-22 school year. 

Here is an example of how this could play out for a college team: 

  • A fully funded NCAA D1 FBS football team has a maximum of 85 scholarships. All D1 FBS scholarships are full-rides.
  • For the 2020-21 season, the team has 25 seniors on scholarship. Let’s say all of these seniors get an extra year of eligibility. 
  • For the 2021-22 school year, this program could bring back up to 25 seniors and all of those seniors are eligible to keep their scholarships.
  • If the school is able to fund the maximum number of scholarships it can for the 2021-22 school year, they could have 110 athletes on scholarships. That means 25 returning seniors and 85 others. 

The determining factor is whether or not a school can afford to give scholarships over the maximum. 

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Other NCAA eligibility center questions

The NCAA Eligibility Center partnered with the NCAA membership and created an FAQ guide for student-athletes that covers recent changes to the NCAA recruiting rules, calendar and eligibility. NCAA Eligibility Center COVID-19 Response FAQs.

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