NCAA grants an extra year of eligibility to all winter sports athletes and repeals .500 rule for bowling teams

All winter athletes in NCAA Division I sports will be granted an additional year of eligibility, and all football programs will be allowed to participate in bowling games – regardless of record – as part of ad hoc rule changes in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA Division I board voted to approve both measures this week at its annual meetings. Board chair Grace Calhoun, Penn’s athletic director, said the board wants to provide as many opportunities and flexibility as possible for athletes amid the uncertainty hanging over this year of college sports.

In a normal year, college football teams need a record .500 to qualify for a postseason game. Calhoun said the board decided to drop that requirement in 2020 to “continue the theme of maximum flexibility.”

NCAA policymakers previously voted to allow all spring sports athletes and all fall sports athletes to maintain one year of eligibility, regardless of which portion of their season was affected by the pandemic. The same rule will apply to any athlete who participates in a sport during the upcoming winter season. Calhoun said the board doesn’t want athletes to go redshirt this year for fear their seasons will be cut short or otherwise negatively affected by the pandemic.

“We felt it was important to make this decision now so that student-athletes have the peace of mind to come into this season and compete,” Calhoun told ESPN on Wednesday. “They know they can regain that eligibility and have their clock automatically extended, so they’re not taking that chance up front if they choose to compete.”

UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma said he thinks many of her fellow coaches will oppose the adjusted eligibility rule.

“I don’t have to worry – I don’t have old people,” Auriemma said. “But I think you’re going to have a lot of coaches who are going to say, ‘You’re putting me in a difficult situation here. Because now you’re going to make some old people say, “Hey, I want to stay.” And then you have a coach who says, “I didn’t plan on you staying.” Now what are you going to do – kick the kid out?

“I don’t like it. If you lose your season, I can see it. If you say, ‘Hey, look, fall sports guys, you lost your season. We will give it back to you. I can see it. It’s logic. But how are you going to let someone play a whole season and give them another year?”

Council members also decided to move forward in meetings this week with two other rule changes that are likely to have far greater long-term impacts on college sports. The council intends to propose new rules that would dictate how athletes can earn money from their names, images and likenesses and a new rule that would allow all athletes to transfer once without having to s miss a season.

The NCAA Board of Governors will vote in January on whether to formally adopt these proposals. The details of both proposals may be changed at any time during the three months preceding this vote.

Most NCAA sports already allow college athletes to change schools without penalty. However, in football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and men’s ice hockey, current rules state that a player must sit out for one season if they change schools before graduating. The rule change would ensure that athletes in those five sports would also be allowed to change schools once during their college athletic career.

Calhoun said the proposed rule received “broad support and very little debate.” The biggest issue to be resolved with the transfer rule is whether the NCAA will put in place a deadline for athletes to notify their current schools that they intend to leave. Calhoun said there were several proposals on how to handle this detail, ranging from allowing players to transfer at any time to separate deadlines for each sports season to granting an extended deadline for players. athletes when a coach leaves a program.

On the name, likeness and likeness (NIL) front, board members debated a proposal from the working group that has been tasked with coming up with new rules as they continue to sort through some of the details on how college athletes can make money in the future. Just over a year ago, the NCAA Board of Governors asked each division of the association to revise its rules prohibiting athletes from making money selling the rights to their NIL. Under pressure from state and federal lawmakers, the association is expected to vote on changes that would go into effect no later than next fall.

Federal and state lawmakers could also have a say in the extent to which the NCAA is allowed to restrict the future earning power of college athletes. After college sports leaders asked for their help, several members of Congress introduced bills that address the changing landscape of college sports. State laws that have already been passed could go into effect as soon as next summer if not preempted by federal legislation. NCAA leaders hope their proposed changes will work in concert with what Congress decides to pass to create a uniform set of rules that apply across the country. Some members of Congress have expressed concern that the NCAA does not want to go far enough in expanding rights and benefits for college athletes.

Calhoun said the group tries to be “as permissive as possible while ensuring there is fairness and integrity in the process.” College leaders have said they fear an unlimited market for college athlete endorsements is being used as a thinly veiled recruiting tool, rather than matching the true market value of an endorsement. Calhoun said she hopes the transparency and flexibility will help them deal with some of the still unresolved issues by balancing those two goals.

Rule changes proposed this week would allow athletes to be paid to sign autographs, teach classes or camps and appear in advertisements, among other things, Calhoun said. Athletes should disclose any offers to their school. The NCAA would likely rely on a third-party administrator to organize these disclosures and look for anomalies, such as a payment that is clearly above fair market value for a particular endorsement. It’s unclear what consequences would follow a deal deemed inappropriate, or who would decide what is appropriate or how it would be decided.

“If there’s sunshine on it, maybe that fixes some of those anomalies and things that might make it feel like it really wasn’t a fair deal,” Calhoun said. “I also recognize that as much time as we have spent talking about it and thinking about how to draft the legislation, we have also said repeatedly that these are the types of major changes that sometimes you have to live with a little bit. and see where they work and where they don’t. I don’t think anyone gets the impression, even if we continue to refine the proposals before January, that we’re going to have that right 100%. There’s going to be a period time when we need to see how it is implemented and what is working well and what might need to be refined.”

The current proposal would also place some restrictions on the types of businesses athletes would be allowed to endorse. Athletes would be prohibited from endorsing brands that violate NCAA values, such as alcohol, drugs, tobacco, gambling or adult entertainment.

Other restrictions could be left to the schools. Some college athletic administrators have suggested that college athletes should not be allowed to sign deals with companies that are direct competitors of the brands that sponsor their school. For example, they believe that an athlete from a school who wears Nike uniforms should not be able to sign a contract with another shoe company.

Calhoun said the discussions this week led his group to believe that each school should be allowed to make a decision on how to handle potential conflicts between its sponsors and potential sponsors of its athletes. In this scenario, schools would be required to disclose their rules and restrictions to potential athletes before they sign up to compete for that school.

“These conversations have been a long time coming because there are no easy answers,” Calhoun said. “But I think we’ve come up with a great package that will be refined by the members over time. At least we’re moving in the right direction.”

Information from ESPN’s Graham Hays was used in this report.

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