What Does the NCAA Extra Year of Eligibility Mean for Recruiting?

On this page

  • Understand how COVID-19 impacts college coaches’ rosters and recruiting needs.
  • See who is eligible for an extra year of competition at the college level.
  • Find out how this will affect your college recruitment.

Who is eligible for an extra year of eligibility?

In response to the impact COVID-19 had on college athletics during the 2020-2021 season, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to spring, fall and winter sport athletes. See the breakdown by division and sport season below.

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NCAA Extra Year of Eligibility Offerings

What does an extra year of eligibility mean?

All student-athletes whose 2020-2021 season was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will now get 6 years to compete in 4 full seasons of their sport in college. Traditionally, there is a 5-year clock for athletes to play 4 years. For seniors, this ruling meant a chance to finish out their college careers. For others, it opens a door to new academic and athletic opportunities.

Here’s an example: A D1 freshman athlete competed in a portion of the 2020-2021 season. They are eligible for an extra year of competition, per the NCAA’s eligibility relief. Starting sophomore year, they compete in 100% of each season throughout their senior year. Their eligibility count is only at 3 years. This athlete has the option to return for one final season – a fifth year. If this athlete returns for a fifth year, they will have been a member of the team for 5 years and eligible to receive financial aid to continue their education for a six year, because their first year of competition didn’t count against their eligibility.

While the NCAA’s ruling was sympathetic to the needs of student-athletes who may have lost a year of competition, they carry with them unintended consequences for college coaches, scholarship budgets and future recruiting classes.

Will an extra year of eligibility change the recruiting needs for college coaches?

Yes. The NCAA’s extra year of eligibility ruling will impact roster sizes, recruiting numbers and scholarship amounts over the next couple of years, putting college coaches in unpredictable waters.

Some coaches may choose to focus their recruiting efforts (and scholarship dollars) on bringing veteran players back, while others may look to rebuild with athletes from the transfer portal or future recruiting classes. Regardless, if athletes affected by COVID-19 choose to return for a fifth year we can certainly expect to see an increase in competition for roster spots and scholarships between returning players and incoming recruits.

Since the additional year of eligibility only applies to a select group of athletes, the issues coaches and prospective-student athletes will face with roster spots, scholarships and the transfer portal will diminish in the coming years. However, it would be wise for athletes to factor this in when choosing your top schools. 

NCAA eligibility relief and the transfer portal

The transfer portal has been a focus for many college coaches looking to find reliable student-athletes who have already proven that they can play competitively at the collegiate level and manage their academics.

In a recent survey  we sent to college coaches, 22% said they expect to recruit more transfer students. Coaches like Mark Byington, Head Basketball Coach for JMU, told AP News that they are turning to the transfer portal for older, experienced athletes who can provide stability for the team during these uncertain times, “We wanted to get older. And the best evaluations we could get during a pandemic was watching guys who played against other Division I players.”


What about athletic scholarships?  

Athletes who decide to use their extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic are not guaranteed a full scholarship, or even the ability to compete. One caveat to the NCAA’s ruling on an extra year of eligibility is that individual schools and conferences have the authority to adopt this rule or not. This means that some schools may allow seniors to return for an extra year of eligibility, while others may choose not to offer this due to program budgets, housing availability, etc.

Ultimately, it’s the school’s and coach’s decision to decide if they want to extend their scholarship limit to include fifth year seniors or transfers. The determining factor is whether or not a school can afford to give scholarships over the maximum. 

Learn more about the impact of COVID-19 on athletic scholarships.

How 2022 and 2023 recruits should approach the college recruiting process

While some sports are starting to see less of an effect from the extra year of eligibility, 2022 and 2023 recruits should still be realistic about the possibility of fewer scholarship opportunities and available roster spots.

Recruits who are set on competing at the D1 level should expand their search to include D2 and competitive NAIA programs. Student-athletes looking to attend college in a certain region of the country should expand their search to include other regions, as well. Recruits who planned on receiving an athletic scholarship should look into other alternatives to cover college costs, such as merit-based scholarships, grants, work study and etc. It’s now more important than ever for student-athletes to keep an open mind about where they plan to compete for the next four year – and that’s ok! 

Delayed College Recruiting

As college coaches navigate the new NCAA recruiting rules, recruits should be prepared for a delayed recruiting process over the next few years. Coaches need to work with current roster spot holders to determine which athletes plans to take advantage of their extra year of eligibility.

To stay on top of things, proactively reach out to college coaches to see if they know how many seniors plan to return and what roster availability looks like for the coming year. Keep in mind that coaches may not always be able to provide an answer, but it allows the recruit to show their interest in the program, while also helping them evaluate whether the program is still a realistic college option.

Alternative College Options

Some student-athletes may choose alternative options to attending a four-year college or university as they wait to see the full impact of the pandemic on college athletics. Some of these options include taking a gap year or attending a Junior College and transferring to a four-year institution.

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.

For students enrolling full time in the 2022-23 or 2023-24 academic years, review the COVID-19 Response FAQs, which includes information about academic evaluations, automatic waiver criteria, submission of academic documents and more.