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NCAA eligibility ruling creates short-term flexibility, long-term uncertainty

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This could get messy

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Louisiana State Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA formally passed a ruling on Friday that gives all fall sport student athletes an extra year of eligibility (as well as an extra year to complete it), regardless of whether their season is canceled. It’s a great move for current student athletes, especially upperclassmen who were facing the prospect of losing their last season of playing the sport they love. But looking farther down the road, it could cause some major waves in football recruiting and roster construction, even giving an bigger advantage to richer schools than they already had. Let’s break down the impacts year by year.

2020-2021

The impact here should be minimal. Some seasons will be played and some will not, but nobody’s eligibility will be different than what it is currently. Essentially, they’ll act like this year never even happened.

2021-2022

Obviously not all seniors will come back for the additional year. Some will have graduated and decided to move on. Some will decide to pursue a career. But having a smaller senior class won’t come close to making up for the fact that teams will suddenly have a freshman class that’s double its usual size (consisting of 2020 recruits as well as the 2021 recruits who just arrived). The NCAA has waived the usual scholarship limits for the 2021-2022 school year, so staying under the traditional 85 scholarship rule won’t be an issue. But for many schools, paying for all of those extra scholarships might not be so easy. Especially when they’re coming off of a previous year that likely saw drastic reductions in revenue. Major schools (like A&M) can likely weather this storm, but smaller Power 5 schools and a lot of Group of 5 schools may have tough decisions to make regarding which current players they retain and how many new players they bring in.

2022-2023 (and beyond)

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. The waiver that lifts scholarship limits (at least for the moment), does not extend beyond the 2021-2022 school year. So minus the usual attrition, teams will still have a full four recruiting classes worth of players already on the roster before they even bring a single 2022 recruit into the fold. The numbers dictate that there will be a lot of players suddenly on the outside looking in. But will that be upperclassmen who don’t have their scholarships renewed? Will we see recruiting classes get smaller? And this trend will likely continue for an additional two years into the future until that double-sized class from 2020 and 2021 has used up their eligibility.

In trying to do right by the players of the present, they may be doing so at the detriment of players in the future, who will be forced to transfer away, go to a junior college or give up football altogether. If the NCAA is going to give four years’ worth of players an extra year of eligibility, they need to be prepared to solve the complexities it creates four years into the future.