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Everett Golson and the Five-Year Clock

By all accounts, Everett Golson should lose a season of competition. His dismissal from Notre Dame, combined with his previous redshirt and the five-year clock make it impossible to use his four seasons. And while a combination of NCAA rules are conspiring against him, Golson’s “poor academic judgment”, in his own words, are the proximate cause of his predicament.

But if Golson played any level of NCAA athletics other than Division I, it would not have to be this way. Divisions II and III do not have the five-year clock. They use the 10-semester/15-quarter rule, which says student-athletes have 10 semesters or 15 quarters of full-time enrollment to use their four seasons of competition. Time spent away from school or enrolled part time does not count against student-athletes in most cases.

The advantage of the five-year clock is that its ruthless, unceasing nature means Division I athletics requires a greater level of dedication. To have the full range of options with your eligibility requires that student-athletes meet initial eligibility requirements, stay academically eligible, commit to one school, and keep their nose clean. On the other hand, it can subject athletes to the whims of a coach. And it struggles with relatively common situations like athletes who redshirt then are injured.

But because the five-year clock is just an NCAA Division I rule, Golson is not actually stopped from using all four seasons of competition. The NCAA may be closed to him, but a junior college is not. And like the exception available to Gunner Kiel had he explored a return to Notre Dame, Golson would have access to a 4-2-4 transfer exception that allows him to ignore many of the requirements for athletes who start a four-year college, transfer to a junior college, then transfer to a Division I institution.

With or without 4-2-4 transfer exception, the five-year clock creates an odd incentive for Golson. He gets fuller use of eligibility by transferring to a junior college for one semester, playing football, then signing with and returning to Notre Dame for the Spring 2014 semester. If Division I used the 10-semester/15-quarter rule, Golson would be better off attending somewhere part time or taking a semester break, then returning to Notre Dame for the final three seasons of his eligibility.

The five-year clock is Division I’s most important, its biggest differentiator from Division II. And the 10-semester/15-quarter rule would be subject to much manipulation in Division I (imagine greyshirts at any time during an athlete’s eligibility). But seeing how the rules combine to incentivize certain choices for Everett Golson shows even this most basic and important rule needs at least a review, if not reform.

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