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NCAA Graduate Student Eligibility: 3 Things You Need To Know

You've probably seen graduate students on an NCAA D1 or D2 team's roster, and you may wonder: Am I still eligible to play in the NCAA as a graduate student? The answer: It depends. Read on to learn the 3 most important things about NCAA Graduate Student Eligibility.

Written by

Lars Blenckers

Finding out if you're still eligible to play in the NCAA as a graduate student can be tricky, and I always advise you to consult a college sports recruiting expert or the NCAA directly. 

However, I came to the USA myself as a graduate student. Let me break down the three things you need to look out for to see if you're still eligible as a graduate student in the NCAA. 

Here are the 3 main things:

1. Remaining Eligibility and the NCAA' Clock"

2. Extending Eligibility: Redshirt and Covid

3. Academic Standing And Progress

Remaining Eligibility

First, you need to know if you still have eligibility after finishing your bachelor's degree. 

One of the central components dictating eligibility is what's known as the 'NCAA Clock.' 

This clock can significantly impact your academic and athletic trajectory. Here is how it works:

The Five-Year Clock in Division I

In NCAA Division I, student-athletes are bound by what is commonly referred to as the "Five-Year Clock." 

Simply put, you have five calendar years within which to complete four seasons of competition. 

Remember that this is a continuous five-year timeframe, which means you cannot take a few years off in between.

The Ten-Semester/15-Quarter Clock in Division II

When it comes to Division II, the eligibility clock functions a bit differently. 

Student-athletes have either 10 semesters or 15 quarters to complete their four seasons of competition. 

The distinct aspect here is that the clock only moves when you're enrolled as a full-time student. If you decide to take a semester off or enroll part-time, the clock pauses, affording you greater flexibility. 

This can be particularly beneficial if you're considering extending your athletic participation into your graduate studies.

For example, I studied in the Netherlands for 3 years (or 6 semesters) and finished my bachelor's degree. 

This meant that I still had 2 years (or 4 semesters) left on the clock, and was able to play 2 years as a graduate student in the NCAA. 

Since I didn't compete for my university at home, I stayed within the 4 seasons of competition.

NCAA Graduate Student Eligibility
Myself (Lars) playing as a graduate student in the NCAA

Extending Eligibility

Understanding the NCAA eligibility rules is one thing, but what happens when unexpected events—like injuries or even a pandemic— come along?

Special provisions, like redshirts and the COVID blanket waiver, can offer a lifeline. Let's delve into these exceptions that could extend your eligibility into your graduate years.

Redshirts and Medical Hardship

You may have heard the term 'redshirting'. But what is it?

Redshirting allows you to pause your athletic participation for a year while you continue your academic pursuits. 

This is often employed during an athlete's freshman year but can be invoked later under circumstances like medical hardships. 

An unfortunate injury doesn't have to spell the end of your athletic career; a medical redshirt could give you the time to recover. 

Keep in mind, redshirting has its own set of rules and criteria. If you're considering this route, be prepared to meet specific academic and institutional benchmarks. Make sure you're clear on these requirements; otherwise, you might find yourself in a pinch later on.

COVID Blanket Waiver

When COVID-19 hit, the NCAA had to think fast. They came up with something called the COVID blanket waiver. 

In simple terms, this gave many student-athletes an extra year to play. That's why you see so many athletes taking an 'extra' 5th year to transfer schools and go for their master's degree while still playing in the NCAA.

Remember that this waiver was only for active athletes during the 2020-2021 academic year, and soon this waiver will become obsolete.

NCAA Graduate Students in College Soccer
Many Graduate Students Play In The NCAA

Academic Standing and Progress

Even if you have remaining eligibility left based on the NCAA 'Clock' or a waiver, you still need to meet the academic requirements. 

You need to maintain a certain GPA and progress toward your degree.

GPA Requirements

Maintaining a solid GPA isn't just for academic bragging rights; it's crucial for your athletic eligibility. 

In D1, you're looking at a minimum GPA of 2.3. For D2, the bar is slightly lower at a 2.2 GPA. 

If you don't meet these requirements, forget about playing in the NCAA as a graduate altogether.

Progress Toward Degree

NCAA rules also require you to make 'satisfactory progress' toward a degree. What does that mean? 

Basically, you've got to complete a certain percentage of your degree each year to remain eligible. 

In D1, you need to complete 40% of your coursework by the end of your second year, 60% by the end of your third year, and 80% by the end of your fourth year. 

In D2, the rules are slightly more lenient, but the principle remains: keep progressing academically to keep playing athletically.

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