Can Graduate Students Play College Sports?

Current NCAA rules only stipulate that a student is allowed five years in which to play four years of college sports.  So the short answer to the question “Can graduate students play college sports” is yes.

This means that for a variety of reasons, a graduate student may retain eligibility to play college sports.  One scenario is for the student to be able to finish his or her college course in shorter than four years.  People of exceptional intelligence have their courses accelerated.  In this day of the internet, who hasn’t heard of at least one case of a preteen being allowed to enter college?  If their primary and secondary education can be accelerated, then their college education can too.  But then, they would probably too young to be competitive in physical sports.

Another way for students to be able to play college sports as a graduate student is if the student athlete “redshirted” a year.  Redshirting is a practice where prospective student athletes are asked to sit out a year as athletes, while continuing their education.

Redshirting is done for a variety of reasons, among them are:

  • Asking the NCAA to redshirt a student athlete for a year to allow for a major injury to heal
  • Sitting out the freshman year as an athlete to wait for a position in a college team to be vacant.  College football teams who have an established quarterback and a reserve, for example, would prefer to use the year to train a recruit and get his game to mature during the redshirt year.
  • A sports program also benefits from recruiting its members a year in advance, then asking them to sit out the first year.  During that year, they are taught to blend with the team. In case the prospective student athlete is not be good enough, then there’s time to make adjustments.
  • Asking an exceptional athlete to sit out the first year, so he or she can be provided with additional academic tutoring to allow them to meet the academic performance required to compete.  For sure, almost all Division 1 colleges are familiar with this scenario.

Assuming a regular four year course after redshirting a year, an athlete still has one more year to play as a graduate student.  But this comes with another requirement:  his graduate studies must be in the same college or university.  Another rule states that transfers must sit out the first year after transfer, by which time the five year period for availing of the four year eligibility would have lapsed.

So if you ask “Can graduate students play college sports?” even if the answer is yes, the athlete still has to follow the rule that specifies a maximum of four years of play. This should be availed within the first five years of college or graduate education. Are these eligibility rules better for college sports?  Absolutely, as it encourages new players to come in and further improve the pool.

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