J. Levi Burnfin of the Garden City Telegram on a big idea from incoming National Junior College Athletic Association president Bryce Roderick:
“One of the things that we’re working on, and one of the things I’ll visit on with our presidents, too, in the Jayhawk Conference, is a third year of eligibility,” Roderick said.
This is not the same as the NCAA’s oft-discussed but never adopted “year of readiness”. That idea would extend the five-year clock for nonqualifiers to six if they attend a junior college for two and a half or three years and do not compete the first year. The year of readiness proposal has been a victim of changing governance models (from the regular legislative cycle to the Presidential Retreat Era to the current reform efforts) and concerns about abuse of the extra redshirt year.
Roderick’s reasoning behind expanding junior college eligibility to three years is rooted in the NCAA’s recently increased 2–4 transfer requirements, but not merely as an attempt to help more athletes meet those requirements:
“You probably would look at those athletes that, either because of the curriculum or the grade-point-average, wouldn’t transfer,” Roderick explained, “then ’Hey, let’s stay. Stay at the community college for some extra time, get your degree…”
The athletes that did stay for a third year at the community college level would likely not be recruited to play at the NCAA level — given they would only have one year of college eligibility remaining — but those athletes would now have an extra year of scholarship-offset education to gain eligibility and have the ability to transfer to a four-year institution as a student only.
NCAA eligibility requirements contemplate a five-year graduation path, but two years of junior college eligibility when many associates degrees are 60-credit programs is firmly on a four-year path to graduation. 60 credits over three years would be a six-year graduation path, behind the NCAA’s eligibility standard but within the federal timeline for things like Pell Grants and graduation rates.
Transferring from a junior college to Division I after three years is difficult not just for athletic reasons but academic as well. Entering the fourth year of college, an athlete needs 60% of their degree complete (72 credits of a standard 120-credit degree program). At that point, an athlete may have run out of lower division courses and may need higher level courses that are not offered at the two-year college level. Alternatively, 2–4 transfers after three years at a junior college could see their choices of major limited by the need to meet the NCAA’s percentage-of-degree requirements.
Allowing junior college athletes to play three years thus should not be looked at by Division I coaches and fans as yet another loophole for things like oversigning, greyshirting, or to manage prospects who are considered academic risks. It is more like a second chance for athletes who are unable to transfer after two years to get a few more credits on the junior college’s dime before finishing their associates degree and/or heading off to a four-year college. That is, unless proposals for five seasons of competition gain more traction with the NCAA.