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NCAA Eligibility Explained

Some of the most frequently asked "Ask the Vet" questions that we receive regarding NCAA Division I rules have to do with what does and what does not compromise a player's eligibility. It is of course imperative that we as players educate ourselves on what will and will not affect our eligibility and for that reason, we felt that it was time to include an article on that deals with the uncertainty surrounding the NCAA eligibility rules. We hope that this article clears up any questions that you may have now, or in the future.

As a hockey player interested in pursuing the NCAA (Division I) as a playing option, especially with regards to obtaining a scholarship, two of most important rulings that you need to be aware of are the following:

14.2.1 Five-Year Rule - A student-athlete shall complete his or her seasons of participation within five calendar years from the beginning of the semester or quarter in which the student-athlete first registered for a minimum full-time program of studies in a collegiate institution, with time spent in the armed services, on official church missions or with recognized foreign aid services of the U.S. government being excepted. For foreign students, service in the armed forces or on an official church mission of the student's home country is considered equivalent to such service in the United States. Participation after 21st Birthday - Any participation as an individual or a team representative in organized sports competition by a student during each 12-month period after the student's 21st birthday and prior to initial full-time enrollment in a collegiate institution shall count as one year of varsity competition in that sport. Participation in organized competition during time spent in the U.S. armed services shall be excepted.

To summarize the Five-Year rule, enrolling at college or university full time begins your five-year eligibility clock. For a player aiming at the NCAA, full-time enrolment could make them less attractive to schools/coaches recruiting future talent - by thus having less years to work with the player. For the most part, players that want to continue schooling while playing out their junior will attend as part-time students. This allows them to keep the edge on their studies while also being able to balance the rigors of playing junior hockey all the while keeping their NCAA eligibility intact.

The second rule above may or may not be an issue for some players. In some cases, a player will turn 21 during their last year of junior. If so, a player cannot continue playing once their 21st birthday occurs if they are inline for the NCAA the following season. If they do continue to play, the player will lose a year of eligibility - again something that most coaches aren't that keen on when recruiting a prospective athlete.

Another area of concern for prospective NCAA athletes has to do with keeping their amateur status. The rules that you need to be aware of concerning amateur status are the following:

12.3.1 General Rule - An individual shall be ineligible for participation in an intercollegiate sport if he or she ever has agreed (orally or in writing) to be represented by an agent for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability or reputation in that sport. Further, an agency contract not specifically limited in writing to a sport or particular sports shall be deemed applicable to all sports, and the individual shall be ineligible to participate in any sport.

In other words, any player considering college hockey as a possible route should refrain from speaking with any agencies or individual agents.

When it comes to Major Junior hockey (WHL, OHL, QMJHL), players that play at this level are also considered to be pros in the eyes of the NCAA. For this reason, any player that plays even one game at this level will forfeit their eligibility. The rules in this area are as follows: Competition with Professionals - An individual shall not be eligible for intercollegiate athletics in a sport if the individual ever participated on a team and knew (or had reason to know) that the team was a professional team (per Bylaw 12.02.4) in that sport. However, an individual may compete on a tennis, golf, two-person sand volleyball or two-person synchronized diving teams with persons who are competing for cash or a comparable prize, provided the individual does not receive payment of any kind for such participation. Major Junior A Ice Hockey - Ice hockey teams in the United States and Canada, classified by the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association as major junior A teams, are considered professional teams under NCAA legislation.

It is important for all NCAA hopeful players to know that any player who plays Major Junior hockey will most likely never be able to play in the NCAA. There are certain appeals processes that a team can go through to try and have a player's eligibility reinstated, however, for the most part, the majority of coaches and teams will not bother to try and take these steps. It is extremely rare due to the abundance of quality hockey players available to them.

For those of you who may have specific questions regarding the NCAA and its eligibility rules, we would like to encourage you to contact the NCAA directly. You can reach the NCAA Clearinghouse at (319) 337-1492 or visit their website at Also, the Division I and Division III manuals are online for your viewing.

We hope the article will help you to avoid the easily avoidable mistakes that have cost many players the chance of competing at the NCAA level. As always, if you have any further questions, be sure to "Ask the Vet".

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