Breaking Down the Stakes Around the Extra Year of NCAA Eligibility

In October, the NCAA announced that all Division I winter athletes who competed during 2020-21 would be getting an extra year of eligibility and an extra year to complete said eligibility. Instead of having five years to use four seasons of eligibility, the number is now six years to complete five, since the 2020-21 season did not count for either metric.

What does that mean for swimmers, divers and coaches, exactly? Unfortunately, it’s not a simple answer.

The NCAA granted the eligibility extensions, but things like financial aid, roster size, grad programs available and more are dependent on each school and swimming & diving program. It’s ultimately up to each school and coach to decide if and when they want to extend their scholarship limit to include fifth-year seniors or fifth-year transfers, which could make the decision for a lot of student-athletes.

Because each school has different rules around roster sizes and scholarship availability, anyone seeking to transfer for their fifth year will have to follow the rules of whatever school they’re trying to transfer to, which unsurprisingly can be an obstacle.

From the student-athletes’ perspective, an extra season has plenty of big decisions tied with it. Let’s say an athlete at University A wants a fifth year with University A, but their desired grad program isn’t offered at University A, it’s at University B. But, the swimming & diving program at University B might not have any scholarship cap space, so the financial burden suddenly becomes massive. University C might have room for another scholarship, but their grad program might not be what the student-athlete wanted.

“It really depends on so many things,” said Northwestern head coach Katie Robinson on a phone call this morning.

“Some coaches can help you get into a grad program at their institution, some can’t. And there are obviously financial decisions to be made. At Northwestern, we cannot go over the scholarship cap, but that might differ for every school.”

If coaches don’t have any scholarship wiggle room, that means anyone who is a junior or younger during the 2020-21 season won’t have any scholarship guarantees.

Robinson says that the NU staff sat down with the team and got a sense from underclassmen and seniors alike what they wanted to do. She says some seniors were looking at grad programs at other universities, which she was happy to help them on that process, while some underclassmen said they simply had no idea what they would want in a couple of years.

“We have to make some tough decisions, since not every senior who wants to come back a fifth year will necessarily be able to,” said Robinson. “It’s not only because of scholarship caps, but we have roster numbers to hit and we need to be cognizant of the 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes and if we have space for everyone.”

Because the COVID-19 extra year of eligibility depends on multiple factors between the student-athlete, coach, athletic department and school, it’s likely that swimmers and divers seeking the extra year will be more of an exception than a rule. Of course, if things line up for a student-athlete, the door is open for them to utilize the extra year, which we’ve already seen happen (here’s an example, though note that Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League canceled the 2020-21 season, so a senior athlete at a program that didn’t have a season likely has more motive to pursue another year).

Robinson confirmed that Northwestern will make an announcement later this year about their senior class and what’s next for them. We will likely see that kind of announcement out of most programs over the next few months as we track where any post-grad seniors might be landing.

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DMSWIM
6 days ago

This could be a great opportunity for those looking at grad schools at a swimming school where they would be a big fish in a little pond. The student gets a free year of grad school and the school gets a swimmer that will be a game changer for a year.

DCSwim
Reply to  DMSWIM
6 days ago

It’d be cool to have a D1 A finalist to go to a D3 go for one year like I wanna see a 1:39 2 back from some random Midwestern school

Bub
Reply to  DCSwim
6 days ago

Emory breaststroke records still stand

CSC
Reply to  DCSwim
6 days ago

Except D3 doesn’t offer athletic scholarships so the D1 finalist would have to foot the bill

DCSwim
Reply to  CSC
6 days ago

Not entirely I would say, I had a friend who went D3 and got a nice “academic scholarship”

Penguin
Reply to  DCSwim
6 days ago

LOL any good D3 school certainly does NOT give “academic scholarships” to athletes just because they’re fast. Maybe some of the… ahem ill say less prestigious… D3 schools do that, but no Cal or Texas swimmer is going to go to a random D3 school with an average grad school just so they can get a scholarship.

Sun Yangs Hammer
Reply to  CSC
6 days ago

D3 recruits often get unusually large academic scholarships and other awards atypical for a non athlete and sometimes better money than mid major D1. @NCAA this is definitely a joke

Retired coach
Reply to  DCSwim
5 days ago

Unless the D3 rule has been changed, attending grad school to use a remaining year of athletic eligibility is ONLY permitted for the undergraduates of that same D3 school.
Very different from the D1 rules.

PVSFree
Reply to  DMSWIM
6 days ago

Dean should recruit every senior from Texas to Harvard and they should just go for a one year all in blitz on the NCAA title. It’d be amazing

Penguin
Reply to  PVSFree
6 days ago

Now that’s something I’d get behind.

RHMSwim
6 days ago

This will be really tough on incoming freshmen that will be competing against 5th year seniors for relay spots, especially when conference and NCAA championships come around again.

Ol' Longhorn
Reply to  RHMSwim
6 days ago

Poor incoming freshman. Didn’t get to have an NCAA year of pandemic fun.

Swim Mom of Three
Reply to  Ol' Longhorn
6 days ago

Yes- they did. My daughter lost her senior year- just today went back to in person. Pools closed down for months. High School season will be crammed into the next four weeks or so but no state meet. Our state still isn’t allowing competitions. We couldn’t leave to compete in other states without quarantining for 14 days upon return until last month.

Swimdad
Reply to  RHMSwim
6 days ago

Dumb rule. Because of the rule, our state is now allowing high school kids do repeat their year of high school and to get another year of competition at the high school level. Terrible trickle down effect.

Ghost
Reply to  Swimdad
6 days ago

If you don’t like, don’t take the extra HS year or college one! No one is making them do it are they?

The Importer AND Exporter
Reply to  Swimdad
6 days ago

I would expect that anyone who takes that fifth year of high school will be mocked something serious…

Superfan
6 days ago

So many more scenarios not explained in article!

One school (big power football probably) can have 15 mens scholarships but others limited to 9.9? And that might happen for 4 years!?

If school allows one person an extra year, does it have to allow all athletes the extra year?

Dave
Reply to  Superfan
6 days ago

No, the only year a school COULD go over their 9.9 would be for next season and that is for this years senior class only. Moving forward schools have to budget that with it their scholarship. So if school A is done with 2022 recruiting already, don’t expect many in the current junior class to be able to use that fifth year

Ghost
Reply to  Dave
5 days ago

Thanks

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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