NCAA votes to extend eligibility for fall sport athletes by 1 year

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Photo Credit: Elias Huerta

All fall sport athletes will receive an additional year of eligibility regardless of whether they play this school year or decline to participate due to health concerns, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted Friday.

The ruling will affect Texas’ football, volleyball and soccer, including senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who could now choose to come back for a fifth year.

“My personal opinion is I do think that eligibility should be frozen regardless,” Ehlinger said in a media availability Aug. 18. “I think that it’s unfortunate that everybody has had to go through this. … The college experience is such a short-term thing in people’s lives, and I think that everybody should be able to get the most of it.”

The NCAA board also approved a number of other protections for Division I student-athletes, including prohibiting schools from requiring athletes to sign a waiver before playing and requiring schools to continue to honor scholarships for any student-athlete who opts out of participating due to health-related concerns.

On Saturday, head football coach Tom Herman echoed Ehlinger’s statement after the decision, saying the NCAA made the right call.

“With so much uncertainty going on with different conferences choosing not to play, I think the NCAA got it right, and it’s the fair and right thing to do,” Herman said in a media availability.

Herman said a handful of players had expressed concern about injury risk while practicing, but having that extra year of eligibility has given his players confidence knowing they won’t waste a year if there isn’t a season or if it is cut short.

“From what I have seen and what we’ve told them as a staff, the fear of injury if there’s not a season is very diminished from where it was two weeks ago,” Herman said. “They’re going to have that year regardless, so it’s given these guys confidence for sure.”

The decision will have a ripple effect on rosters for years to come, and the NCAA decided that seniors will not count toward spots on that sport’s roster or its scholarship limits.

The Texas football team has 12 seniors on its roster, all currently on scholarship. The volleyball team currently only has one senior, and the soccer team currently has five seniors. 

While the NCAA’s decision to protect the roster spots and scholarships of fall sport seniors for an additional year may provide some answers to questions regarding player management, Herman is still uncertain how it will affect future recruiting classes. 

What roster and scholarship management will look like beyond the 2021 NCAA fall season is still unknown. After eligibility was extended this past spring, the NCAA allowed the same eligibility, roster and scholarship extensions for spring sports next season. Some baseball coaches expressed concerns that college baseball will never be the same — football may face the same issues.