NCAA Tweaks Fall Sports Rules, Including Men’s Water Polo, Due to COVID-19

The NCAA has announced changes to several fall season sports in the interest of creating a safer competition environment amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA recognizes 8 sports in the official fall season. While the NCAA’s leadership continues to ramp up its rhetoric about what the fall season will look like, so far, there has been no national shutdown of fall sports.

The NCAA is writing these mandates as ‘waivers’ to the original rules, meaning that the changes are not permanent updates to the rule books, rather temporary exceptions given the circumstances.

NCAA Division I Fall Sports:

  • Men’s & Women’s Cross Country
  • Women’s Field Hockey
  • Men’s Football
  • Men’s and Women’s Soccer
  • Women’s Volleyball
  • Men’s Water Polo (collegiate division)

In men’s water polo, the lone aquatic sport in the fall season, the rules changes will increase the interval time between periods and during halftime to allow for the bench area to be sanitized to permit teams to switch bench areas. In college water polo (and at most levels), teams switch benches in between periods.

While volleyball, which uses a similar system of switching ends, has opted to just not have teams switch sides this fall, water polo has decided to leave the switching in place while allowing for a more thorough cleaning.

The differences in approach could be explained by environment. While volleyball (specifically court volleyball) is played exclusively indoors in the NCAA, much of the college water polo world, especially in California, is played outdoors. That means things like wind, shadows, and sun come into play, which can affect the outcome of matches.

This waiver for men’s water polo is in addition to a number of rules changes of the more standard ‘rewrite the book’ variety that the NCAA approved this offseason. Read more about those here.

Other NCAA Playing Rules Changes

  • In football, team areas will now run from 15 yard line to 15 yard line. That gives teams an extra 20 yards to spread out on the sidelines, allowing for better social distancing.
  • In football, Coin toss participants will be limited to 2 officials and 1 captain from each team. Previously, teams could bring up to 4 captains and additional people like media or ceremonial captains to participate. Coin tosses, which determine the initial direction of play and which team receives the kickoff to start the game, result in participants being generally in close proximity to each other.
  • In men’s and women’s soccer, players ejected for spitting at an opponent will have to serve a two-game penalty, ostensibly to account for the increased risk of such an action. The current rule calls for an ejection and one-game suspension. At international levels of soccer, spitting is already considered one of the most heinous acts of unsportsmanlike conduct – penalties are more severe for spitting on an opponent than, for example, hitting an opponent.
  • In women’s volleyball, teams will stay on the same bench during the entire match rather than switching benches after each match.

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2 months ago

Great! Those look like minor changes. Hope club Water Polo follows suit and is ON!

2 months ago

Is there even going to be a men’s fall polo season? It seems every conference and division within (CWPA) has canceled. Only conference I haven’t heard anything about is MPSF, although PSB and AC both announced no fall polo.

About Braden Keith

Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder 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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