NCAA moves toward free year of eligibility for fall athletes

Gates leading into Memorial Stadium are padlocked, in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. The Big Ten won't play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports' power conferences to yield to the pandemic. The move was announced Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Gates leading into Memorial Stadium are padlocked, in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. The Big Ten won't play football this fall because of concerns about COVID-19, becoming the first of college sports' power conferences to yield to the pandemic. The move was announced Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

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.

The NCAA Division I Council voted Wednesday to recommend all athletes whose fall seasons are being altered by the pandemic should get the year of eligibility back. The council also recommended the NCAA should pursue staging fall sports championships during the spring. No recommendation was made for the size of the fields and how they should be picked, which will ultimately determine whether conferences choose to participate.

“We continue to be committed to providing opportunities wherever possible,” said Council chairwoman M. Grace Calhoun, the athletic director at Penn.

Other fall sports include men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, field hockey and cross country.

And the council approved the Football Oversight Committee's plan to allow teams not playing in the fall to have 12 hours per week of mandatory activities that include strength and conditioning, meetings and noncontact, unpadded practices.

The proposals need approval by the Division I Board of Directors, which meets Friday. If the board signs off — which is likely — all athletes, whether they play or opt out because of concerns about COVID-19 at any point during the 2020-21 academic year, 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 for the 2021 seasons.

The same thing will happen for fall sport athletes in 2021-22.