The NCAA Division I Council has voted to allow schools to permit spring sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their five-year period of athletic eligibility on account of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

While it had previously announced that it would consider and potentially adopt modifications, changes, or waivers to current NCAA legislation in response to student-athletes affected COVID-19,

the NCAA rejected efforts by winter sport athletes, including men’s and women’s basketball student-athletes,

to return to competition during the 2020-2021 academic year since they were denied a potential March Madness experience in 2020. Winter sports athletes were not granted an additional season of competition because all or much of their regular seasons were completed.

The NCAA also announced adjusted financial aid rules to allow collegiate teams to carry more student-athletes on scholarship to permit and account for additional incoming athlete recruits, as well as student-athletes who elect their right to enjoy an extra year of eligibility. The Council also increased the current roster size limitations in baseball to account for the return of student-athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the Division Council vote provided schools the flexibility to give students the opportunity to return for 2020-21,

it also provided schools the flexibility to provide scholarships for each student-athlete at the same level or at reduced level from the scholarships provided during the 2019-2020 academic year.

This scholarship flexibility applies only to student-athletes who would have exhausted eligibility in 2019-20. With regard to the scholarship issue, Division I Council Chair M. Grace Calhoun and University of Pennsylvania Athletics Director commented, “At the end of the day, each institution is going to have to figure out what it can do.”

Division I rules limit student-athletes to four seasons of competition in a five-year period.

The Division Council’s decision allows schools to exercise individual waivers to restore one of those seasons of competition for student-athletes who competed during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 spring season.

The Council also voted to allow schools to self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes who never had an opportunity to compete during the 2020 spring season. This decision essentially allows each student-athlete to extend their five-year competition window by a year.

Division I Council Chair Calhoun commented, “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.” She concluded, “The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level.”

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group will continue to monitor the NCAA in its ongoing response to COVID-19. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with any questions regarding the NCAA’s eligibility decision.

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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.