All freshman student-athletes must be certified for financial aid, practice and competition by the NCAA Eligibility Center. The NCAA Eligibility Center is the organization that handles all inquiries regarding an individual's initial eligibility status. Certification is based on the student-athlete's high school courses as well as any standardized tests taken (i.e., SAT, ACT). Information on registering for and being certified by the Eligibility Center can be found at www.ncaaeligibilitycenter.com. Further information relating to the NCAA Eligibility Center and freshman eligibility regulations may be found at www.ncaa.org (Rules Compliance/Becoming Eligible section).
Continuing Student-Athlete Eligibility
To be eligible to represent an institution in intercollegiate athletic competition, a student-athlete must meet all NCAA eligibility rules as well as those of their college/university. Generally, to be eligible to represent an institution in intercollegiate athletic competition, a student-athlete must: (a) be enrolled in at least a minimum full-time program of studies leading toward a degree, (b) be in good academic standing as defined for all students by the college/university, (c) maintain progress toward a degree, as defined by the college/university and by the NCAA rules, and (d) be in compliance with all rules and regulations of the college/university, the conference and the NCAA.
NCAA rules specifically define the degree progress standards that student-athletes must meet in order to maintain eligibility from year to year. These include successfully completing a minimum of 6 credits each semester, 24 credits after the first year (and a certain percentage of your degree each year thereafter) and maintaining a minimum grade point average.
Seasons of Competition
A student-athlete uses a season of competition for a given academic year as soon as he/she participates in a competition (excluding NCAA-legislated preseason exhibition contests and practice scrimmages) against an outside team (i.e., any team that includes individuals who are not on the institution's team during that academic year). Any competition during a season, regardless of the amount of time spent, counts as one season of competition in that sport. For example, one play in a football game or one point in a volleyball match counts as a season of competition, just as playing in every basketball or soccer game during a season counts.
Number of Seasons of Competition
A student-athlete who is considered an initial qualifier is permitted four (4) seasons of competition. Non-qualifiers are permitted three (3) seasons of competition. A non-qualifier may earn a fourth season of competition if he/she completes 80% of his/her degree by the beginning of his/her fifth year of enrollment. Non-qualifiers may not practice, compete, or receive financial aid during their freshman year.
There is no age limit on who can participate as a student-athlete, however, a student-athlete who does not enroll in a collegiate institution as a full-time student in a regular academic term during a one-year time period after his or her high school graduation or date of his or her class, whichever occurs earlier will utilize a season of competition for every calendar year after the one-year period (next opportunity to enroll after one calendar year has elapsed) in which he/she participates in organized competition. After the one-year time period, if the student has engaged in competition, the student must also fulfill an academic year in residency before being eligible to represent the institution in competition. In the sport of tennis, the delayed enrollment period is six months.
Five-Year Clock ("Five to Play Four")
Each student-athlete must utilize all seasons of competition within five (5) years of initially enrolling full-time at a college or university.
Red shirting is not an official NCAA term, but the term is used when a student-athlete does not participate in any competition during a particular academic year (i.e., neither in the championship nor the non-championship segment of the playing season). A student-athlete may be red-shirted at any point in his/her athletic career. A "medical red shirt" is not an official NCAA term either, but the term is used when a student-athlete is injured after participating in a limited amount of competition during a particular academic year and then qualifies for a Medical Hardship Waiver. More detailed information regarding Medical Hardship Waivers is included below.
Medical Hardship Waiver
If a student-athlete suffers a season-ending injury or illness after competing in a limited amount of competition during a particular academic year, he/she may qualify for a medical hardship waiver which would allow him/her an additional season of competition during the five-year period of eligibility. To qualify for a medical hardship:
(a) the student-athlete's injury or illness must occur in one of the four seasons of intercollegiate competition or subsequent to the first day of classes in the student-athlete's senior year in high school;
(b) the injury or illness must occur prior to the completion of the first half of the playing season that concludes with the NCAA championship in that sport and must result in incapacity to compete for the remainder of that playing season; and
(c) the injury or illness must occur when the student-athlete has not participated in more than three contests/dates of competition or 30% of the institution's scheduled contests/dates of competition in his/her sport (whichever number is greater).