The NCAA Board of Governors took a landmark step on Friday by approving a measure that will grant an extra year of eligibility to all fall sports athletes. Even athletes who compete this fall will be eligible for an extra year under the rule, which was recommended earlier this week by the Division I Council. The extension of eligibility for fall athletes follows a similar measure approved by the NCAA earlier this year with spring athletes who had most of their 2020 seasons erased by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"All fall sport student-athletes will receive both and additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it," the NCAA said in a release. "Student-athletes who do not enroll full time during the 2020 fall term have flexibility in the progress-toward-degree requirements that must be met for eligibility in future terms."
Granting an extra year of eligibility could bring plenty of complications for schools, however. The NCAA's announcement said seniors student-athletes who take advantage of the additional year of eligibility will not count against team scholarship limits in 2021-22. But even with temporarily-expanded scholarship limits, athletic departments dealing with significant budget shortfalls may not be in position to spend more on athletic scholarships.
The NCAA's announcement Friday did not mandate that schools fund the scholarships of seniors for an additional year; this adopted rule merely allows for the temporary expansion of scholarship limits to accommodate seniors who do opt to return for an additional season.
The eligibility extension is particularly interesting for the six conferences still planning to play football this fall. Under the rule, a player gearing up for his senior season could play this fall -- assuming the season is played as scheduled -- and return to play again in 2021. That could mean some school, conference and even NCAA statistical records could be in danger as a result of players who, in essence, played five seasons.