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Division I Council recommends giving all fall athletes an additional year of eligibility

Update: The NCAA got back to me on Thursday morning. Here is their response:

If the Board of Directors approves the Council recommendations tomorrow, it is accurate that the recommendation to allow all fall student-athletes a season of competition waiver will - in effect - give any fall student-athlete that competes in 2020-21 five total seasons of competition (including this year). And six years in which to complete those seasons.

The only student-athletes whose aid would be exempted from the limits next year would be those who would have exhausted eligibility this year under normal circumstances. The Council has noted the issue you raised, and will continue to work through that and other effects of the new flexibility provided to student-athletes in this challenging time.

In other words: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday evening released a set of recommendations that could have far-reaching impact on college football for years to come.

While sandwiched in the middle of the release, this section is the meatiest issue the Council addressed on Wednesday night:

Members also recommended the board give all fall sport student-athletes both an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it, a recommendation that is even more flexible than what it endorsed last week.

They don't just want to give seniors an extra year to compete, they're giving all fall student-athletes an extra year of eligibility.

This goes beyond what the Council previously recommended, which simply extended an extra year to players who had their seasons canceled and/or to players who competed in 50 percent or fewer of their team's games.

Extending that to, again, as the NCAA said, all fallstudent-athletes incentivizes players to opt-in for what is certain to be a weird fall season or an even weirder winter/spring season. Otherwise, you could have teams struggle to fill out rosters because players -- smartly -- wouldn't want to waste a valuable year of eligibility on what many will view as an illegitimate season.

So while the Council had to make that concession to make 2020-21 work, that could have massive, massive implications that might not fully untangle themselves until 2025 or so.

Let me explain.

The way I read this, not only do all 2020 seniors receive the opportunity to play a second senior year in 2021, all 2020 juniors get to be juniors again in 2021, etc. And while 2020 freshmen get to repeat their freshmen year in 2021, another crop of freshmen will arrive behind them in 2021 as well. The Council essentially just created one mega-freshman class of 2021, and either schools will have to respond by signing tiny classes in 2022 and '23, or the NCAA will have to relax the 85-man scholarship limit until the 2020-21 classes exhaust their eligibility.

I've reached out to the NCAA to see if the Council has addressed this, and will update when I hear something. The NCAA's release on Wednesday night only briefly addresses this issue, and only in regards to current seniors: "The financial aid of fall sport senior student-athletes who take advantage of the additional year of eligibility and extended clock should not count against team limits in 2021-22."

But the Council didn't just extend the clock for seniors, they extended it for all fallstudent-athletes.

No matter how this shakes out, this could have a major chilling effect on competitive imbalance in major college football. Consider the following:

-- If the NCAA doesn't relax the 85-man limit beyond 2021, suddenly Alabama has much less room in its 2022 class and beyond. Players that normally would have signed with the Tide now go to Ole Miss, players that would have gone to Ole Miss go to Memphis, and on and on it goes.

-- If the NCAA does relax the limit and temporarily pushes it to, say, 105, there are still only 11 spots on the field at a time. Players that waited their turn to play suddenly find themselves stuck between a veteran repeating his senior year and two groups of freshmen nipping at their heels. Now, for example, redshirt sophomores with four years in a Power 5 strength program (not three, because 2020 doesn't count) are going to hit the Transfer Portal in even greater numbers than they were before.

-- The most likely scenario, particularly at the bottom of the FBS food chain, is that schools who were already struggling to pay the bills before the pandemic hit find themselves unable to fund an extra 20 or so scholarships in a time when they can't sell football tickets, and a lot of players' careers are prematurely cut short.

Now consider this possibility. A recruit signs in 2019 and redshirts, but still appears in the four games allowed to preserve said redshirt. Then he plays in 11 games in 2020 as a redshirt freshman, but since 2020 doesn't count toward his eligibility clock, he gets to compete as a redshirt freshman again in 2021. By the time the 2021 bowl season rolls around, we could be talking about a 21-year-old freshman with nearly 30 games under his belt.

I realize we're getting far out over our skis here for an announcement that came down just a few moments ago -- and, again, I've reached out to the NCAA for clarity on this -- but this ruling will lead to consequences that live well beyond Aug. 19, 2020.


-- The Council formally recommended pushing all fall championships to the spring, which would include the FCS playoffs. This was a formality once the NCAA announced it was shutting down fall championships last week, but it comes with a few caveats.

First, those championships will only occur if the virus is corralled between now and then. Second, fall championships will take third priority behind winter and spring championships, since those athletes had their championship opportunities wiped away earlier this year.

-- The Football Oversight Committee established a schedule for teams who are not competing this fall.

The Football Oversight Committee recommended that schools that have postponed their football fall competition and plan to compete in the spring of 2021 be allowed to participate in up to 12 hours of countable athletics activities per week, with two required days off. No more than five of those hours can be skill instruction, during which footballs, helmets and spider pads can be used. No contact would be allowed, but strength and conditioning, team, position and individual meetings and film review would be allowed within the 12-hour weekly limit. A four-hour daily limit on athletics activities is included.

This is down from the 20 hours that some coaches lobbied for. The new schedule begins Aug. 24 and runs through Oct. 4. "The committee intends to further study the issue to determine appropriate levels of countable athletics activity for the remainder of the year," the NCAA said.

All recommendations forwarded by the Council must be approved by the Division I Board of Directors, which next meets on Friday.