Cases where an athlete loses a season of eligibility because he or she delayed enrollment in college are normally pretty shocking. The athlete often has no idea that he or she risked eligibility by not starting college. The athlete might have not had any options at the time to start college when they graduated from high school. Often they are international athletes who are not used to the system of high school sports that NCAA rules normally assume.
And many times, like in the case of Missouri Southern men’s basketball player Christian Salecich, the problem is not caught until after the athlete has been in college for a few years. Athletes who are preparing to play their final season find out that they actually used that season of eligibility long ago, before they even started college.
Most athletes will never need to worry about delaying their enrollment because they play high school sports that end when they finish high school and then they move straight to college. But international athletes, athletes in individual sports, and athletes heavily involved in club sports must understand the delayed enrollment rules to avoid losing their eligibility.
The Delayed Enrollment
Generally athletes have one year after they graduate from high school to enroll in college. During that year, they can continue playing their sport with no penalty. After the one-year grace period, athletes must stop competing in their sport in order to preserve their eligibility. That date is always extended to the next opportunity to enroll. That means if a prospect graduates in May 2013, he or she has until Fall 2014 to enroll.
The graduation date that starts the grace period is either an athlete’s expected graduation date based on when he or she started ninth grade or the athlete’s actual graduation date, whichever is earlier. So if an athlete graduates early, the start of the grace period moves up. But if an athlete graduates late, it does not move back.
Only competition is prohibited after the grace period. Athletes may still train and practice with a team or coach indefinitely after they graduate high school, so long as he or she does not appear in organized competition. Competition is on a yearly basis. If you play one game during a year, it is the same as playing an entire season.
The penalty for delaying enrollment and competing past the grace period is that an athlete may not compete their first year enrolled in college and the athlete loses one year of eligibility for every year he or she competed after the grace period. Here is an example:
Jane plays soccer in England. Jane graduates from high school in May 2012. Jane continues to play soccer in England and does not enroll in college.
- If Jane plays in a game between May 2012 and August 2013: no penalty.
- If Jane plays in one or more games between August 2013 and August 2014: sit out one year, lose one season of eligibility.
- If Jane also plays in one or more games between August 2014 and August 2015: sit out one year, lose two seasons of eligibility.
- If Jane also plays in one or more games between August 2015 and August 2016: sit out one year, lose three seasons of eligibility.
- If Jane also plays in one or more games between August 2016 and August 2017: loses all seasons of eligibility.
What Prospects Can Do
Prospects can avoid problems first by knowing when their graduation date is. That means knowing both your actual graduation date and what your expected graduation date is based on the educational system in your country and when you started ninth grade. Always work off the earlier one.
Prospects in tennis should be especially aware because they have only a six-month grace period. That generally means that a prospect can delay enrollment for one semester or two quarters before they start to lose eligibility if they continue competing.
Prospects who want to delay enrollment for athletic or recruiting reasons should have a plan for the time after high school graduation. This includes knowing when the prospect will no longer compete in events. Prospects should be upfront and talk to their club or prep coaches early, and make sure they understand why you will want to stop competing.
Finally, prospects should keep detailed records of every competition they appear in after finishing high school (or after their expected graduation date). The NCAA Eligibility Center asks prospects to list every event or competition they competed in after high school. Having this ready will reduce hassles, especially for prospects who register late with the Eligibility Center.