College athletes whose seasons are impacted by COVID-19 came one step closer to gaining eligibility protection on Wednesday when the NCAA Division I Council formally recommended the adoption of emergency legislation that could be finalized by the NCAA on Aug. 21. Ultimately, it will be up to the Division I Board of Directors to finalize the recommendations of the Council.
Those recommendations handed down Wednesday included extending the five-year participation window for athletes who opt out of playing or have a season cut short due to COVID-19. The recommendations also suggest athletes be given an additional season to complete their eligibility if 50% or less of the maximum allowed competitions are completed by athletes.
For example, that would allow football players to retain their eligibility for an additional year if football season begins but must be canceled less than halfway through because of COVID-19 conditions, or if an athlete contracts COVID-19 and is unable to continue playing less than halfway through a given season.
"In this time of uncertainty, the Council members are working to create additional flexibility for college athletes whose seasons have been negatively impacted by the pandemic," Penn athletic director and Division I Council chair Grace Calhoun said in an NCAA statement. "Every day things are changing in college sport, and we want to be as responsive as possible, with the best information, to help student-athletes and their families make important decisions for their future. The Council worked hard today and will seek membership input before we make final recommendations to the board next week."
The NCAA's announcement said the Division I Board of Directors will meet Aug. 21 "to review Council recommendations regarding student-athlete well-being protections and the future of fall championships."
If the board approves the council's recommendations, it would be a victory for athlete advocacy groups that have risen in prominence amid uncertainty about the return to college sports amid the pandemic. A group of Pac-12 athletes organizing under the #WeAreUnited moniker listed "preservation of athletic eligibility" first among its three main requests in a statement released Tuesday night after the league canceled all competition for the remainder of 2020.