College athletes who play fall sports, including football, will be given a free year of eligibility no matter how much they compete over the next 10 months if an NCAA recommendation is approved later this week.
Two people with knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press the NCAA Division I Council voted Wednesday to recommend all athletes whose fall seasons will be altered by the pandemic should get the year of eligibility back. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the council was still meeting and an official announcement had not yet been made.
The proposal needs approval by the Division I Board of Directors, which meets Friday. If the board signs off, all athletes, whether they play or opt out because of concerns about COVID-19, will not be docked one of their four years of eligibility.
The NCAA made a similar decision earlier in the year when spring sports had their seasons cut short by the pandemic. All of those athletes were permitted to get an extra year of eligibility, with seniors who wanted to return not counting against roster or scholarship limits.
Underclassmen will be guaranteed a waiver to get back the year of eligibility if they want during their careers, but will count against roster and scholarship limits.
COVID-19 concerns have led to all but six Division I leagues, including the Southeastern Conference, Big 12 and Atlantic Conferences, to postpone fall sports, with the hope of making them up in the spring semester.
But even those conferences that are moving toward a fall sports season have decreased the number of games scheduled to be played and built in extra time in anticipation of disruptions caused by COVID-19.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 are among the conferences looking into an alternative football season, starting maybe as soon as January.
The Mid-American Conference and Mountain West have also postponed fall sports among those in the NCAA’s highest-tier of football. In the second tier of Division I, which has an NCAA playoff, all the conferences have postponed fall sports, though a few schools are scheduled to play nonconference football games.
Other fall sports include men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball and cross country.