NCAA 6th Year Database

I have assembled a collection of cases where college football and men’s basketball student athletes have sought a 6th year of eligibility. The database contains summaries of each of those cases, outlining which years a student athlete was active, years they were inactive and reasons for inactivity, and whether they were granted or denied a 6th year. Additionally, I have linked to each student-athlete’s university bio page (when available) as well as a published article related to the ruling. The database can be accessed through the link below as a Google spreadsheet.

If you have any additional cases you would like added to the database, please reference them in the comments section by including student-athlete name, school, and sport.

NCAA 6th Year Database

 

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NCAA 6th Year of Eligibility Part 2

*NCAA 6th Year database is now available

In the first part on this topic I focused on a case where one school was pursuing a 6th year for three players in the same season, which seemed peculiar because 6th year waivers are extremely rare; three on one team in one season is a substantial outlier that I felt should be explored further. Last week, another one of those three players, Ed Davis of Michigan State, received a 6th year of eligibility from the NCAA. This ruling doesn’t line up with precedent in previous rulings, nor does it follow the letter of the NCAA rule. So, what happened, why was this case approved whereas past similar cases have been denied, and what does this mean going forward? First, let’s take another look at the rule itself and how it has been applied in previous cases.

The 6th Year Waiver Rule

The rule as it is written aims to be black and white, but leaves a little room for a gray area if you look closely. It starts out like this: 12.8.1.5.1.1 Circumstances Beyond Control. Circumstances considered to be beyond the control of the student-athlete or the institution and do not cause a participation opportunity to be used shall include, but are not limited to, the following: 

Those 5 bolded words are the gray area. This allows the NCAA some wiggle room should they encounter a case that doesn’t exactly fit a scenario outlined within the rule itself. The exact scenario outlined in the rule relevant to this case reads, “Situations clearly supported by contemporaneous medical documentation, which states that a student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate competition as a result of incapacitating physical or mental circumstances.” This is where it looked like the 6th year waiver had no chance for Davis, as there was plenty of evidence suggesting he was not injured in 2011, but no publicly available documentation showing that he was injured. The only sources I could find claiming he was injured in 2011 were dated after his 2015 season-ending injury. If he had actually been injured in 2011, why is it so difficult to find any evidence of it until after he needed to be injured in 2011 to receive a 6th year in 2016? Some teams are loath to disclose injury information to the public, but there exists plentiful documentation of injuries to other players on this team in the 2011 season. Why would Davis, a true freshman at the time and unknown to the college football world, be omitted from an injury report? Here is an archived article which gives both an injury update and a brief summary of the then-freshmen linebackers (Davis’ position group): https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/118491415/. The relevant excerpt from the article, as the formatting in this archive is difficult to navigate:

INJURY UPDATE: Tressel said he expects to have linebackers Chris Norman and Steve Gardiner back for Saturday’s game. A sprained shoulder kept Norman out of last week’s 24-3 loss at Nebraska. “I’m pretty confident he’ll be good to go this week,” Tressel said of Norman. “Wasn’t real comfortable. Could have gone if we really wanted (him) to play through the pain and risk it, but (he’s) got a lot of football to be played, so didn’t.” Gardiner suffered a shoulder stinger in the first half against Nebraska and did not return to the game. He practiced Tuesday. 

 FRESH LBS: Tressel said true freshman linebacker Taiwan Jones overcame a hurdle in recent weeks. “Sort of plateaued,” Tressel said of Jones. “Thought, ‘OK, I’m a backup.’ Which is great as afreshman. Sort of settled into that mind-set a little bit and got out of that funk the last couple weeks, which is really good, especially with Chris out this past week.” Jones, who has played mostly on special teams, has 10 tackles and a half-sack. Freshman linebackers Lawrence Thomas , Ed Davis and Darien Harris are on track for redshirt seasons. “If you look at our front seven on the scout team right now, the redshirt guys, that’s a pretty good group of players that are working hard,” Tressel said. “You’ve got Darien, L.T. and Ed Davis at the backer spots.” Tressel also mentioned defensive linemen Brandon Clemons , Damon Knox and Shilique Calhoun . “There are some boys that are going to be able to play some great football up here,” Tressel said. “The disappointment (of not playing) has passed. You accept the situation that you’re in and try to figure out how to help your team win.” 

That quote is from MSU linebackers coach Mike Tressel, referring to Davis as being “on track for [a] redshirt season.” There is no mention of an injury however, even though Tressel was quoted in the previous paragraph about injuries to players in his position group. Claiming a player is on track for a redshirt season is a very peculiar way to say he is out for the season with an injury, especially when mentioned alongside two other non-injured freshmen also on track for a redshirt season. Also worthy of noting is that both of the other 6th year candidates, Brandon Clemons (received a 6th year) and Damon Knox (did not receive a 6th year, more on this later) are mentioned by name in the article, though only in an implied–not direct–quote from Tressel. It is shown in my original article that Clemons can be seen on the sideline late in the year not in uniform and on crutches, clearly establishing he had been injured at some point in the season. Additionally, it was brought to my attention after the first article that Clemons actually did participate in a game early in the 2011 season which takes a standard redshirt completely out of play for him, thus strengthening his case that his season was lost due to injury.

One more interesting piece of information from the first article is an indirect quote from an MSU compliance director in 2015:

She said the only thing taken into account is game competition. So the fact that Davis came back from knee and shoulder injuries to practice as a redshirt freshman in 2011 should not hurt his cause.

I initially didn’t acknowledge this part of the quote because it seemed that the interpretation of the rule had been twisted. It is true that only game competition is taken into account in terms of participating in less than the 30% of the season threshold, and since Davis played in zero games in 2011 this criterion was indeed met. However, because he played in zero games he (unlike Clemons) was eligible for a standard redshirt and would need to show he’d sustained an injury which was clearly supported by contemporaneous medical documentation. I have yet to find or be shown any publicly available documentation of an injury other than claims to an injury in 2011 that were made after his ACL injury in 2015. Even in the official release from MSU there was no acknowledgement of an injury in 2011, but there was acknowledgement of his 2015 injury: Davis did not play in 2011 and missed the entire 2015 season after suffering a torn ACL during the first week of preseason camp. (Source: http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/090916aab.html)

Previous Rulings on Similar Cases

The interpretation of the NCAA rule on 6th year waivers in Davis’ case is starkly different from similar previous cases. In 2013, Notre Dame’s Jamoris Slaughter sought a 6th year and was denied because it was deemed his freshman season did not have proper documentation of an injury: http://www.herloyalsons.com/blog/2013/03/06/devin-gardner-michigan-medical-hardship-notre-dame-freeslaughter/. It is also noted in this article that a 6th year petition and a 5th year medical hardship waiver (example used here was Michigan’s Devin Gardner) are very different. From the article:

Slaugther’s case, Vining-Smith clarified, was a petition for a “6th year [extending] the 5 year clock based on 2 missed opportunities to participate.” Gardner’s case on the other hand was a hardship waiver which “[gets] a season back (additional season) within the 5 year clock when a student athlete has been injured in the first half of the season and participated in less than 30% of contests.”

Gardner had only played in three seasons and was never redshirted. Michigan went to the NCAA and said that his 2010 season should be granted a hardship because he was injured. The season that the NCAA gave back was still within the 5 year clock that Vining-Smith discribes. This is why Gardner’s case was such a “slam dunk” as she stated to me earlier.

Slaughter on the other hand had a much tougher case to prove. In order to get a sixth year, Slaughter had to show the NCAA that he missed two opportunities to play. While we are all aware of Slaughter’s injury in the 2012 season, that is only one year missed and Slaughter needed two. What Notre Dame argued was that Slaughter’s first season (2008), in which he redshirted, was actually a redshirt due to injury.

 

This document was put together by the Texas A&M compliance department and it illustrates two examples of a player seeking a 6th year. In the first scenario, the player would be granted a 6th year but in the second scenario would not. This second scenario looks extremely similar to Davis’ situation: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/tam/genrel/auto_pdf/comp101-3-five-year-clock-ext.pdf .

Why Was This Case Approved?

When a case is brought to the NCAA, the only evidence that will be considered is the evidence that the parties involved bring to the table. In this case, it was only Michigan State who was involved, thus only evidence that Michigan State submitted was considered. The NCAA has no reason to believe an institution would lie to them (which is a monumental risk to take with the NCAA; clearly not worth it for Michigan State here), so the NCAA does not need to pursue other avenues for information on the case. Obviously, Michigan State will only disclose information that helps their case; anything that would hurt their case simply would not be presented to the NCAA. Michigan State did not need to lie to get a 6th year approved for Ed Davis, but they also didn’t need to provide the NCAA with every shred of information about Davis’ career. They submitted enough to gain approval for a 6th year, and nothing more.

Other Peculiarities

The cases for both Damon Knox and Brandon Clemons were riddled with bizarre events as well. While Davis did not graduate until August 2016 (which is a prerequisite for applying for a 6th year), both Knox and Clemons graduated in December 2015. So when were their 6th year applications submitted? Clemons didn’t receive his 6th year approval until June 21, 2016, about 6 months after graduation. If the process took 6 months for Clemons, why would they have even bothered to submit an application for Davis in August? If the process didn’t take that long for Clemons, why did they wait so long after he graduated to submit the application? Surely knowing one way or the other is in the best interest of the student-athlete, in case he wants to make alternative plans for his future earlier than 6 weeks prior to fall camp.

It was claimed that Knox ultimately decided not to pursue a 6th year, but this news didn’t come out until May. First, let’s look at a timeline for Knox:

February; on signing day, Mark Dantonio mentions Knox, Clemons, and Davis will all be back for a 6th year at the 1:10 mark of this video

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWkA2I73nyU

April; Knox is interviewed after a spring practice and discusses going into his 6th year

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxlurDeWuxQ

(Note: these next articles are from the same two authors in April and May and exhibit the same inconsistencies in reporting, which suggests it was not the authors’ error but the actual information released by Michigan State.)

April; multiple articles written claiming that Knox is awaiting on the NCAA to rule on his 6th year application. From the link below: Knox is now a graduate student participating in spring drills as he awaits word from the NCAA on whether he will be granted a sixth season of eligibility.

http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/sports/college/msu/football/2016/04/18/coach-knox-hoping-big-asset-msus-defense/83196058/

From the link below: Michigan State has applied with the NCAA for Knox to have a sixth year of eligibility, after he played just two games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 due to injury.

http://www.mlive.com/spartans/index.ssf/2016/04/michigan_state_dl_damon_knox_t.html

May; it is determined that Knox has decided not to return, and that the 6th year application was actually never submitted to the NCAA. From the link below: An athletic department spokesman said MSU never officially submitted paperwork to the NCAA to apply for a sixth year.

http://www.lansingstatejournal.com/story/sports/college/msu/football/2016/05/13/michigan-state-football-damon-knox/84345444/

From the link below: Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said earlier this year that the school would seek a waiver for a sixth year of eligibility for Knox, but a school spokesperson said on Friday the school did not file paperwork with the NCAA for that waiver.

http://www.mlive.com/spartans/index.ssf/2016/05/michigan_state_dt_damon_knox_l.html

It appears that the university was trying to backpedal from the claim that they had submitted an application for a 6th year, but why? Had Knox actually been denied a 6th year and forced to pursue a different path?

What This Means Going Forward

This ruling is excellent news for student-athletes; not only for Davis, who gets a chance to actually play his senior year, but for future student-athletes pursuing a 6th year. The precedent has been set such that a player who takes a voluntary redshirt as a true freshman and later on loses a year to injury will still have a very good chance to compete for 4 years by applying for their 6th year. The interpretation of the rule from Michigan State’s compliance director that I referenced earlier in this article appears to now be the standard used for this rule: If a student-athlete doesn’t participate in competition for a season, that season can now be used as one of the two lost seasons needed to be granted a 6th year. It’ll be interesting to see if the NCAA chooses to officially remove “redshirt year” from their list of circumstances within the student-athlete’s control. This would go a long way in removing the gray area of the rule and ultimately benefits the student-athlete, which I think we can all agree is a win for everyone.

NCAA 6th year of eligibility

NCAA 6th Year Database is now available

*UPDATE* The NCAA has granted Ed Davis a 6th year. After the ruling, I wrote a follow-up article that can be found here

NCAA rules are notoriously difficult to navigate. Determining whether a player may be approved for a 6th year (instead of the standard 5 year limit) to complete their 4 years of eligibility is one of the murkier such rules. It is rare that a student-athlete qualifies for a 6th year, so this year’s scenario where Michigan State’s football team had 3 players in consideration for such extended eligibility completion is an extreme outlier.

The rule interpretation in the NCAA Rulebook, as of April 2016 (http://www.ncaapublications.com/p-4433-2015-2016-ncaa-division-i-manual-april-version.aspx) states the following (relevant portions in bold):

12.8.1.5 Five-Year Rule Waiver. The Committee on Student-Athlete Reinstatement, or its designated committee,
by a two-thirds majority of its members present and voting, may approve waivers of the five-year rule as
it deems appropriate. (Revised: 7/30/10, 7/31/14)
12.8.1.5.1 Waiver Criteria. A waiver of the five-year period of eligibility is designed to provide a studentathlete
with the opportunity to participate in four seasons of intercollegiate competition within a five-year
period. This waiver may be granted, based upon objective evidence, for reasons that are beyond the control
of the student-athlete or the institution, which deprive the student-athlete of the opportunity to participate
for more than one season in his or her sport within the five-year period. The Committee on Student-Athlete
Reinstatement reserves the right to review requests that do not meet the more-than-one-year criteria detailed
2015-16 Division I – April
12
AMATEURISM AND
ATHLETICS ELIGIBILITY
79
in this bylaw for circumstances of extraordinary or extreme hardship. A student-athlete who has exhausted
his or her five years of eligibility may continue to practice (but not compete) for a maximum of 30 consecutive
calendar days, provided the student-athlete’s institution has submitted a waiver request. The studentathlete
may not commence practice until the institution has filed such a request. Further, if such a request
is denied prior to exhausting the 30-day practice period, the student-athlete must cease all practice activities
upon the institution’s notification of the denial. (Revised: 4/17/91, 1/11/94, 8/10/94, 10/12/95, 8/12/97,
4/27/00, 1/9/06, 7/30/10, 7/31/14)
12.8.1.5.1.1 Circumstances Beyond Control. Circumstances considered to be beyond the control
of the student-athlete or the institution and do not cause a participation opportunity to be used
shall include, but are not limited to, the following: (Adopted: 8/10/94, Revised: 10/12/95, 7/30/10,
7/31/14)
(a) Situations clearly supported by contemporaneous medical documentation, which states that a
student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate competition as a result of incapacitating
physical or mental circumstances;
(b) The student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate athletics as a result of a life-threatening
or incapacitating injury or illness suffered by a member of the student-athlete’s immediate
family, which clearly is supported by contemporaneous medical documentation;
(c) Reliance by the student-athlete upon written, contemporaneous, clearly erroneous academic
advice provided to the student-athlete from a specific academic authority from a collegiate institution
regarding the academic status of the student-athlete or prospective student-athlete, which
directly leads to that individual not being eligible to participate and, but for the clearly erroneous
advice, the student-athlete would have established eligibility for intercollegiate competition;
(d) Natural disasters (e.g., earthquake, flood); and
(e) Extreme financial difficulties as a result of a specific event (e.g., layoff, death in the family)
experienced by the student-athlete or by an individual upon whom the student-athlete is legally
dependent, which prohibit the student-athlete from participating in intercollegiate athletics.
These circumstances must be clearly supported by objective documentation (e.g., decree of
bankruptcy, proof of termination) and must be beyond the control of the student-athlete or the
individual upon whom the student-athlete is legally dependent.
12.8.1.5.1.2 Circumstances Within Control. Circumstances that are considered to be within the
control of the student-athlete or the institution and cause a participation opportunity to be used include,
but are not limited to, the following: (Adopted: 8/10/94, Revised: 10/12/95, 10/9/96, 7/30/10,
7/31/14)
(a) A student-athlete’s decision to attend an institution that does not sponsor his/her sport, or decides
not to participate at an institution that does sponsor his/her sport;
(b) An inability to participate due to failure to meet institutional/conference or NCAA academic
requirements, or disciplinary reasons or incarceration culminating in or resulting from a conviction;
(c) Reliance by a student-athlete upon misinformation from a coaching staff member;
(d) Redshirt year;
(e) An inability to participate as a result of a transfer year in residence or fulfilling a condition for
restoration of eligibility; and
(f ) A student-athlete’s lack of understanding regarding the specific starting date of his or her fiveyear
period of eligibility.

This looks essentially identical to the interpretation by MSU’s Compliance department in a 2008 online Q&A feature (https://msu.edu/user/msuncaa/questionoftheweek.htm):

Question: How does an athlete get a sixth year of eligibility?
Answer: In general, an athlete may not engage in more the four season of competition within a five-year window. A student-athlete’s five-year clock begins when he/she initially registers in a regular term of an academic year for a minimum full-time program of studies and attends the student’s first day of classes. A student-athlete may be granted a sixth year of eligibility if he/she is unable to participate in his/her sport for more than one season within the five-year period due to circumstances beyond the control of the student-athlete.

Circumstances considered beyond the control of the student-athlete include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. Situations clearly supported by contemporaneous medical documentation, which states that a student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate competition as a result of incapacitating physical or mental circumstances;
2. The student-athlete is unable to participate in intercollegiate athletics as a result of a life-threatening or incapacitating injury or illness suffered by a member of the student-athlete’s immediate family, which clearly is supported by contemporaneous medical documentation;
3. Reliance by the student-athlete upon written, contemporaneous, clearly erroneous academic advice provided to the student-athlete from a specific academic authority from a collegiate institution regarding the academic status of the student-athlete or prospective student-athlete, which directly leads to that individual not being eligible to participate and, but for the clearly erroneous advice, the student-athlete would have established eligibility for intercollegiate competition;
4. Natural disasters (e.g., flood, earthquake); and
5. Extreme financial difficulties as a result of a specific event (e.g., layoff, death in the family) experienced by the student-athlete or by an individual upon whom the student-athlete is legally dependent, which prohibit the student-athlete from participating in intercollegiate athletics. These circumstances must be clearly supported by objective documentation and must be beyond the control of the student-athlete or the individual upon whom the student-athlete is legally dependent.

Circumstances considered to be within the control of the student-athlete or the institution include, but are not limited to, the following:
1. A student-athlete’s decision to attend an institution that does not sponsor his/her sport, or decides not to participate at the institution that does sponsor his/her sport;
2. An inability to participate due to failure to meet institutional/conference or NCAA academic requirements, or disciplinary reasons or incarceration culminating in or resulting from a conviction;
3. Reliance by a student-athlete upon misinformation from a coaching staff member;
4. Redshirt year;
5. An inability to participate as a result of a transfer year in residence or fulfilling a condition for restoration of eligibility; and
6. A student-athlete’s lack of understanding regarding the specific starting date of his/her five-year period of eligibility.

Fast forward to their 2015 interpretation, and the wording has been translated into layman’s terms: (http://www.freep.com/story/sports/college/michigan-state/spartans/2015/11/24/michigan-state-football-ed-davis/76328610/):

Smith said a player must be granted two medical hardships to qualify. That means two seasons ended by injury, and the player in question must be injured in the first half of the season and not participate in more than 30% of the season or three games, whichever is greater.

She said the only thing taken into account is game competition. So the fact that Davis came back from knee and shoulder injuries to practice as a redshirt freshman in 2011 should not hurt his cause.

This means that the injury must be the reason that a player does not compete for the better part of two separate seasons; a non-medical redshirt season cannot count as part of these two seasons.

Let’s take a look at the timeline of the 3 players in question; Damon Knox (who has already decided not to return for a 6th season), Brandon Clemons (who was recently approved for a 6th season), and Ed Davis (who will be eligible to apply for a 6th season upon graduation later this summer).

2011_August_Davis_healthy
August 2011 fall camp, multiple confirmations Davis healthy

Dress list for Youngstown St game on September 2, 2011; #43 Davis, #87 Clemons, #93 Knox listed: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/msu/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2011-12/release/release_20110830aaa.pdf

Clemons dressed in 2011 opener vs YSU
Clemons #87 at Youngstown State game

Above photo pulled from this gallery (3rd picture listed): http://www.msuspartans.com/view.gal?id=100670

Dress list for Florida Atlantic game on September 10, 2011; #43 Davis, #93 Knox listed (#87 Clemons not listed): http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/msu/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2011-12/release/release_20110906aaa.pdf

Dress list for Notre Dame road game on September 17, 2011; none of the 3 players are listed (road games have smaller dress lists than home games, limits vary by host conference/team): http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/msu/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2011-12/release/release_20110913aaa.pdf

Dress list for Central Michigan game on September 24, 2011; #43 Davis, #87 Clemons, #93 Knox listed: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/msu/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2011-12/release/release_20110920aaa.pdf

Participation list for Central Michigan (#87 Clemons included): http://www.msuspartans.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/2011-2012/cmu-msu.html#GAME.PRE

2011_MSU_FAU_Hondo_tweet_Clemons_dressed
September 24, 2011 MSU vs CMU. Confirming Clemons dressed this day but not for FAU game two weeks prior

Dress list for Michigan game on October 15, 2011; #43 Davis, #87 Clemons, #93 Knox listed: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/msu/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2011-12/release/release_20111012aaa.pdf

2011_MSU_Mich_Davis_Knox
October 15, 2011 MSU vs Michigan, Davis #43 center, Clemons #87 lower right

Dress list for Wisconsin game on October 22, 2011; #43 Davis, #87 Clemons, #93 Knox listed: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/msu/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2011-12/release/release_20111018aaa.pdf

2011_MSU_Wisc_Clemons87
October 22, 2011 MSU vs Wisconsin, Clemons #87 lower right
2011_MSU_Wisc_Clemons87zoom
October 22, 2011 MSU vs Wisconsin, Clemons #87 center
2011_MSU_Wisc_Knox93
October 22, 2011 MSU vs Wisconsin, Knox #93
2011_B1G_CG_Davis_back
December 3, 2011 Big Ten Championship, Davis lower right #43
2011_B1G_CG_Davis_face
December 3, 2011 Big Ten Championship, Davis #43
2012_Outback_Davis_background
January 1, 2012 Outback Bowl, Davis #43 in background
2012_Outback_Davis_left_Clemons_right_shorts
January 1, 2012 Outback Bowl, Davis #43 and Knox #93 on left in full pads, Clemons #87 on right in shorts and no pads
2012_Outback_Davis_middle
January 1, 2012 Outback Bowl, Davis #43

Brandon Clemons (who wore #87 as a freshman when was a defensive lineman; later switched to offensive line and #64) dressed in 4 games (played in one of them) and is in street clothes by the end of the 2011 season, suggesting he was out with an injury by that point. A medical redshirt in 2011 seems questionable for him. If he was injured for the majority of the year, why was he in uniform in September and October?

Damon Knox dressed in 6 games, but has since decided not to pursue a 6th year of eligibility. A medical redshirt seemed unlikely, anyway.

Ed Davis played in fall camp in August, and dressed for games in September, October, December, and January. Is that really a medical redshirt qualifier? Seems a lot more like a standard, true-freshman redshirt, which would make him ineligible for a 6th year.