By BRIAN HARNISH
The four-year eligibility rule in the NCAA is quite controversial among student-athletes. The NCAA handbook states, “If you play at a Division I school, you have five-calendar years in which to play four seasons of competition. Your five-year clock starts when you enroll as a full-time student at any college. Thereafter, your clock continues, even if you spend an academic year in residence as a result of transferring; decide to redshirt, if you do not attend school or even if you go part-time during your college career.”
The four-year rule is logical and beneficial to students, however, it is not the same for all divisions. For a Division II or III school, athletes have the first 10 semesters or 15 quarters they are enrolled as a full-time student to complete their four seasons of competition.
Four years should be counted for the years that athletes compete. If an athlete is unable to compete for a semester due to injury, study abroad, etc, it should not count towards their four years of competition. Division III athletes are at an even bigger disadvantage since the team is considered voluntary with no connection to scholarships or college admission.
While the rule in place can be considered beneficial to student-athletes by keeping them on track for their 4-year bachelor’s degree, it can also hinder their performance if the athlete gets injured or suspended for some reason. This happened to senior math major and former varsity swimmer Matt Martinez.
“Four years of eligibility is fair for any college athlete. However, in DIII, we completely volunteer our time to devote to the sport we love. Yet the NCAA still decides to take advantage and make the rules different,” said Martinez. Despite not swimming for a semester, the NCAA counted that semester toward his four-year restriction and he was not allowed to swim the next year.
The four-year eligibility requirement seems to not be communicated properly to athletes, and few know the technicalities of it. Martinez was informed by his coach that he would be able to compete the year after his semester off but found that information was false at the end of the year. Subsequently, he had his final semester of swimming taken from him. If the coach had known the eligibility was based on enrollment and not semesters of swimming, Martinez might have been able to plan his years of competition better.
Many students enter college late due to academics, travel, or whatever reason. So the age of a fifth-year athlete shouldn’t be a concern to the NCAA. An athlete who is off for a semester or a year has not trained for that semester or year either, so they have not had extra training compared to their fellow athletes. Giving athletes the ability to compete for four years by competition rather than by enrollment does not give them an advantage but grants them more opportunity and fairness.
Basing the rule on enrollment instead of semesters of competition is confusing, ineffective, and unfair to students who are trying to participate in division DIII sports. The four-year rule should be counted by semesters of participation rather than enrollment. Injuries are common in athletics and if an athlete is out for the whole year they shouldn’t lose a year of competition. Academics can be challenging and pull an athlete from competing, or students may choose to go on study abroad programs, and a student-athlete shouldn’t be penalized by losing a year of competition.
If the NCAA has concerns with age, training or students taking advantage of the four years by competition rather than enrollment, they could implement stricter regulations such as age limit, practicing and coaching rules, etc. The NCAA needs to grant Division III athletes the flexibility and fairness of actually competing for four years, despite other occurrences.