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NCAA Football: NCAA approves a season of competition waiver for all fall athletes

Athletes who participate in fall sports will get an extra year to compete, what does this mean?

Maryland v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Earlier this week the Division I council recommended that all NCAA athletes who compete in fall sports will get a season of waiver for 2020. This recommendation was approved by the Board of Directors today. Meaning they can all play this year and it will not count towards their individual limit of seasons they are allowed to compete.

On the surface this may seem like a logical move by the NCAA (which it is), simply not counting this very weird year where there will be shortened or cancelled seasons.

But this decision is rather interesting when you think about the ramifications of this, especially when you consider the fact that the NCAA will not be raising the scholarship limit for any of the sports. So practically, what does this all mean?

First of all each athlete will now have 5 years of eligibility, 6 if they had previously redshirted. This is especially great for kids who would be seniors in 2020. Their seasons are cancelled, postponed or at best it was shortened. Having their careers ended by a pandemic is unfair to them. From this standpoint, the NCAA is spot on by allowing them to compete another season.

As we move on down the classes, it gets murkier. Murkier because the NCAA is holding to the same total scholarship limits. So for football, there will still be a limit of 85 scholarship athletes. So the Sr, Jr, So and Fr classes will remain the same. But don’t forget that every program is still bringing in a new freshman class. So in the fall of 2021 you will essentially have a giant class of freshmen, half of which will have been in the program for 12-18 months (or 24 months if they redshirted). Now, it is possible (unclear at this point) if the seniors who play an additional senior year will count towards the scholarship limit. But eventually this is going to create a situation where you essentially have an extra class of kids trying to fit into an 85 man scholarship limit.

Now that eligibility attrition will not be enforced, coaches are going to have to find a way to still bring in the freshmen that they want while eliminating some scholarships from upper classmen. Basically your only natural attrition will come from players going into the NFL Draft and transfers.

So what are the ramifications of this? You will see a combination of two things play out under this new scenario.

1 - Next year there is going to be a very large transfer market. Juniors and seniors who are on the fringe of getting playing time for power 5 programs often transfer, particularly seniors who have graduated. Next year the juniors (and some redshirt sophomores) will conceivably have graduated. When you have programs with super freshmen classes and sophomores who are not really in their 3rd or 4th year in the program, these upper classmen are going to be more inclined to transfer for playing time.

Your upperclassmen starters will likely be fine. If a coach has a senior starter who he gets back for another year as a starter, they will make sure they find a way to keep them on scholarship. But the large group of freshmen coupled with most of your underclassmen actually being a year older, you will see a very large transfer market in the spring of 2021 (and conceivably the subsequent couple seasons, but more on that in a bit).

2 - The class of 2021 is going to generally be smaller for most power 5 programs. With 85 scholarships available and very little attrition, the math is pretty simple here. So there is going to be a pretty significant trickle down effect for the group of 5 programs. Players who would typically get a Big Ten scholarship will fall subject to a numbers game and they will be accepting a scholarship at a MAC or Mountain West school. The trickle down will play out within the power 5 conferences as well. A player who, in a normal recruiting cycle, would accept an Ohio State scholarship will not be taking an Indiana scholarship. And then the kid who was going to accept the Indiana scholarship will head to Bowling Green. And the potential Bowling Green kid will play at Southern Illinois and so on.

The increased transfer market and the trickle down of recruited talent is going to create, at least for a couple years, more balanced talent across division 1 football. Which...will make things interesting.

So what will this mean for Minnesota?

Well the current senior class for Minnesota is pretty small. Even if they all stick around to play in 2021, when you factor in a handful of potential transfers, there may not be much impact on the 2021 recruiting class. The 2021 class will very likely be small, but it is already loaded with some high end talent

I think what you will see is rash of transfers in the next couple years from the current So and Jr classes. There are a number of talented upper classmen entrenched as starters. Those guys very likely will stick around and be starters in the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Coming in behind them will be a couple of very talented recruiting classes. So you will see super seniors for two years and then you will have an influx of talent who were allowed an extra year to develop. In between will be a number of guys battling for spots in 2 years who may choose (or be encouraged) to transfer.

This is pure speculation and I’m intentionally avoiding names, but the numbers will have to come down at some point. For Minnesota, I think you’ll see transfers from those middle classes as the most likely home for reductions.

It is unclear what happens to scholarship limits. Of course, the NCAA could choose to expand scholarship limits and it may be that seniors may return next year without their scholarships counting towards the cap. There will be an entirely different set of ramifications depending on how this is handled.

This is overall a good decision but this is a decision that is going to affect rosters and programs for the next few years.