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NCAA resolves key eligibility question

On Friday, college athletes received a significant concession from the NCAA as it freezes eligibility for fall sports.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Rutgers at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the NCAA Division I Council met to resolve one of the key questions surrounding competition in fall sports — with so many conferences postponing all fall sports until the spring (and some conferences moving forward with plans to compete), how will that impact eligibility for those athletes who do compete?

How the NCAA chooses to handle that issue becomes more significant with the possibility of cancelations if fall sports do start as planned in conferences like the Big 12.

Based on multiple reports out of the meeting, the council voted to allow key concessions to benefit athletes.

Later on Wednesday evening, the NCAA issued a release with the outcomes from the Division I Council meeting, including:

Members also recommended the board give all fall sport student-athletes both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it, a recommendation that is even more flexible than what it endorsed last week.

After its meeting last week, Council members agreed to recommend that all fall sport student-athletes who compete and then opt out of future participation or have a season cut short or eliminated due to COVID-19 receive: (1) an extension of their five-year period of eligibility; and (2) an additional season of competition if they participate in 50% or less of the maximum number of competitions allowed in each sport.

But members now think more flexibility is warranted at a time when some conferences have postponed fall sports, some have canceled and others continue to move toward competing in abbreviated seasons.

In addition, the council voted to prohibit schools from having athletes sign COVID-19 waivers to participate in competition and to prohibit canceling or reducing aid for athletes who opt out. Schools are also required to review current insurance coverage for athletes in fall sports, as well as several other requirements.

With footballers across the country choosing to opt out of the season, including Texas redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Willie Tyler, who joined two of his teammates on Wednesday, the news from the NCAA should satisfy any concerns about a shortened season resulting in, essentially, a lost season of eligibility.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger spoke out on Tuesday in favor of that decision. As the Big 12 deliberated on moving forward with plans to play fall sports, two football players from each member institution joined athletic directors and commissioner Bob Bowlsby on a call that allowed players like Ehlinger to voice their opinions.

“Obviously, it’s an extremely difficult subject and topic to pinpoint the right answer because there’s going to be issues with everyone, but my personal opinion is I do think that eligibility should be frozen regardless. I think that it’s unfortunate that that everybody has had to go through this,” Ehlinger said during a Zoom availability.

“I know it’s not the college’s fault, by any stretch of the imagination but the college experience is such a short term thing in people’s lives and I think that everybody should should be able to get the most of it and then also if, say they didn’t do that and a team started off 1-3. Would you have guys saying, ‘Okay, you know what, this year. It stinks. We didn’t start the season off right so I’m just going to I’m going to sit out the rest of the season’ and say it was for COVID reasoning.

“So I think I do think that there’s issues that lie there, but I believe that with spring ball being canceled, the uncertainty of the season, no preseason games, I do believe that the eligibility should be frozen and guys should be able to get that back.”

The pending approval by the Board of Governors will also create an unprecedented scenario for the 2021 season as some players who opted out return and seniors with borderline NFL prospects or no NFL prospects at all return.

Texas only has 12 seniors on the scholarship roster, including one former walk on — defensive back Hank Coutamonos — but there are about five players highly likely return even if the Longhorns are able to pull off this season, not including running back Daniel Young and defensive end Marqez Bimage, who also opted out.

As a result of this vote, the NCAA will also have to decide how much to change overall scholarship allotments. The most likely solution will probably look similar to the vote to allow seniors on baseball rosters in 2020 to not count against the scholarship allotment next year.

[8/21 update]: On Friday, the NCAA Board of Directors voted to provide all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility and an extra year to complete that eligibility, as well as the other recommendations from the Division I Council for protecting athletes.

“We want to provide opportunities for student-athletes whenever possible,” said acting board chair Denise Trauth, president of Texas State. “We understand it will be complicated and different, and we’re not certain how it will look. But we believe it’s important to try to give students that championship experience.”

The board also directed three groups to work on models for holding scaled-back fall championships in the spring.