The NCAA Division I board of directors voted Friday to grant all fall sport athletes — even those who compete this season — an additional year of eligibility, and will work toward hosting championships for those sports in the spring, the organization announced.
The board approved a blanket waiver for that extra season and gave athletes an additional year to complete it. In a release, the NCAA said its priority remains preserving opportunities for winter and spring sport athletes who missed out on their sports' championships last school year.
Back in late March, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to spring sports athletes, citing cancellations brought on by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with the fate of college sports for the remainder of 2020 uncertain, the NCAA hopes to remove some level of uncertainty for its fall sports athletes.
Additional protections include prohibiting schools from requiring athletes to waive their legal rights regarding COVID-19 and prohibiting schools from canceling or reducing scholarships if athletes choose not to play this season. Any athlete who uses their extra year of eligibility will not have their financial aid count against team limits on scholarships.
For its part, North Carolina has already seen at least one high-profile athlete opt out: women's soccer forward Alessia Russo, who announced Saturday on Instagram that she was leaving UNC "due to the uncertainty of the current situation." Russo, who would have been a senior this year, led the Tar Heels in goals and points last season. Russo's decision comes after four UNC football players announced they were also opting out of the upcoming season.
Most others won't leave school altogether, but there's still much to be decided for UNC's fall sports athletes. There's a considerable amount at stake on the field, too: women's soccer went 24-2-1 and made the NCAA championship last season; men's soccer is looking to bounce back from its worst campaign in years; UNC field hockey is riding a 46-game winning streak and looking to win a third straight national title.
If fall sports do end up happening on schedule, the NCAA vote ensures that athletes can sit out and stay safe while incurring minimal penalty for their decision.
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