NCAA 6th Year of Eligibility

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

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.

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