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Understanding Initial Eligibility Waivers

When Washington State announced that Que Johnson had been ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, it lead to a bit of confusion. Partial qualifiers have not existed in Division I since August 2005, when a set of new initial eligibility standards became effective. Partial qualifiers will return as “academic redshirts” in 2016, but for now, the NCAA Eligibility Center has only two results for Division I athletes: qualifier or nonqualifier.

A partial qualifier in Division I is shorthand for a prospect who has received a certain type of initial eligibility waiver. An initial eligibility waiver is often the

last chance for a student-athlete before he or she is forced to prep school or a junior college, but the process can be difficult and confusing.

Getting Ready for a Waiver

One of the biggest challenges is that waivers are for athletes who have been deemed a final nonqualifier. That means the waiver process cannot really get started until an athlete has graduated from high school, sent all final transcripts and other documents to the Eligibility Center, and been ruled a final nonqualifier. Even if everyone knows ahead of time that an athlete will be a nonqualifier, the waiver cannot be filed until the athlete goes through the regular Eligibility Center process.

This means that there is often a time crunch for waivers. All prospects who will be playing Division I or Division II athletics need to get their documents to the Eligibility Center quickly, but it especially applies to athletes who will need a waiver. A delay in getting certified and starting on the waiver might mean not having the waiver approved in time to enroll in classes for the fall.

To file a waiver, the athlete will work with the compliance office at the college to gather the following information and documents:

  • A completed waiver application;
  • All high school transcripts;
  • All SAT and ACT scores, including those not sent to the Eligibility Center;
  • Letters from both the college and the athlete explaining why he or she was a non-qualifier;
  • Additional pieces of the athlete’s academic record, including SAT subject tests, placement exams, and grades from courses taken in a summer bridge program;
  • Evidence of any mitigating circumstances;
  • In some cases, an academic support plan for athlete.

Gathering all of this can take time, so once it becomes possible that a waiver will be needed, athletes and their families should start putting together as much of it as they can ahead of time. This helps the compliance office submit the waiver as soon as possible after the athlete is ruled a final nonqualifier.

Types of Approvals

There are four possible outcomes when a waiver is submitted: full approval, partial approval, conditional approval, and denial.

If an initial eligibility waiver receives full approval, the athlete is treated like he or she was a qualifier. The athlete is permitted to compete, practice, and receive an athletic scholarship as a freshman. Full approval is granted when the athlete’s academic record shows he or she is clearly prepared for college work or when there was a mitigating circumstance and without that circumstance, the athlete clearly would have met the requirements. What this means is that full approval is normally only granted when an athlete is missing core courses, but has a good enough GPA and test score.

Partial approvals do not allow an athlete to compete, but the do allow the athlete to receive an athletic scholarship and in some cases practice as a freshman. If the athlete’s academic record does not make it seem likely they will be academically successful but there was enough mitigation, approval for an athletic scholarship only can be granted. Approval for athletic aid and practice is granted when there is enough mitigation and the academic record makes it seem likely the athlete will be academically successful.

Conditional approvals are for athletes who graduate from high school and enroll early in college. The academic record must show the athlete is prepared for college level work. When a waiver is conditionally approved, the athlete is allowed to receive an athletic scholarship during his or her first term in college. The waiver will include conditions that allow the athlete to practice or practice and compete if the athlete meets them.

Waivers that do not meet the standards are denied. If a waiver is denied or partially or conditionally approved by the NCAA staff, it can be appealed to an NCAA committee. The committee is made up of people who work at NCAA schools and who have some experience or expertise in eligibility or admissions.

What Makes a Good Waiver

The best piece of advice for athletes who need an initial eligibility waiver is to back up a story with documentation. Many athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators fall into the “good kid” trap, that an athlete deserves a waiver just because he or she is a good kid. The problem is all the waivers submitted are for good kids or athletes that deserve a second chance.

Successful waivers not only show why an athlete is deserving, but back that story up with evidence of how it affected the athlete’s academics. There needs to be a link between a hardship suffered and why an athlete did not meet a certain requirement. The stronger that link, the more likely a waiver is to be approved. And the strongest links are the ones that show up on transcripts or test score reports.

Dealing With Denial

If a waiver is going to be filed, athletes need to plan for what happens if the waiver is denied. One of the most important things to keep in mind are conference nonqualifier rules. If the college is in a conference with a nonqualifier rule, the athlete must be prepared to not enroll right away if he or she ever wants to play in that conference.

Athletes who were close to being qualifiers but just missed and did not have enough mitigation for a waiver may consider prep school for a year. Athletes can use one core course credit to complete the requirements or raise their GPA, or continue to take the SAT and ACT to improve their score. One word of warning: if an athlete receives a scholarship for summer school after high school, he or she cannot use any courses taken after that point.

Athletes who were further off will likely need to go the junior college route. That means enrolling at a two-year college and working toward the NCAA’s two-year nonqualifier transfer requirements. Those include graduating from the junior college, having 48 transferrable credits, and maintaining at least a 2.500 GPA.

What do you think about the NCAA’s current eligibility waiver process? Will the academic red-shirt in 2016 make this process better? Let us know in the comments section below, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+!

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