NCAA Approves Significant Rules Changes for College Water Polo

The NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel approved a number of new rules for collegiate water polo that will better align the game with national and international play. The new rules go into effect for the 2020-2021 season.

The most substantial change is the extension of the 5-meter offensive area to a 6-meter area. In international water polo, fouls committed outside of the 6-meter area, which is the area within 6 meters of the goal line from sideline to sideline, allow the fouled player to take an immediate shot on goal.

Previously, this area was set at 5 meters, and while national and international water polo (everything under the FINA umbrella) has moved that area out to 6 meters in the last few years, the NCAA still has that area set at 5 meters. That will change starting next season, where the area will be expanded to 6 meters. This will likely lead to a decrease in scoring.

This is one of 5 significant rules changes approved by the NCAA this week.

Other NCAA Rules Changes

  • The committee approved a change to the ball in play rules. The ball must be put in play by demonstrating a clear separation of ball, hand, and water as in passing, picking up the ball, swimming with it, dropping it, and tossing the ball up in the air. This would replace the current wording in the rules of having to make a “water polo related move.” This also aligns with international rules and removes some ambiguity. The committee believes that this change will increase shots on goal and increase the pace of play.
  • The committee approved a rule that goalkeepers be allowed to move beyond and touch the ball past the half-distance line. The committee’s vision will be that the goalie will advance past halfway in end-of-game scenarios to create 7-on-6 situations when they are in dire need of goals.
  • The committee approved a rule to ermit assistant coaches and players in the bench area to sit or stand during play. Only the head coach could move beyond the goal line during live play.
  • The NCAA will now allow replacement caps to be readily available in the team bench area.

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1 year ago

I was hoping we would delay the 5 mtr change until we are past Covid and in better financial times. This change will result in increased expenses in a time that budgets are being reduced. Oh well, it’s what it is.

1 year ago

The original creation of the direct shot from the 7m line created more center opportunities. I wouldn’t say this would automatically lead to a “decrease” in scoring for teams that have technically proficient centers and/or an ability to generate ejections from the center. The game is played at 2 distinct distances from the goal line.

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Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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