August 9, 2010

NCAA Women's Volleyball Age Limit Rule

I've heard recently that there is (or will be) a NCAA rule stating that student-athletes over a specific age are not eligible to play on a NCAA volleyball team (this might be limited to Division 1, but I don't know for sure) regardless of other eligibility factors. Can you clarify the situation for me? If such a rule does or will exist, shouldn't the NCAA be concerned about an age discrimination law suit especially since many of the member universities are state-funded institutions? Thank you. James

Yes, the NCAA passed legislation which affects NCAA Women's Volleyball (Division I and II for sure) in August (right now) and will apply to other sports next year, including the basketballs - This rule is commonly referred to as the 'Tennis Rule' because NCAA Tennis has been under this rule for a number of years and it is an age restriction rule.

In a nut shell, the NCAA automatically starts a PSA's clock one year after the first opportunity to enter college as a full time student. If a PSA graduates in May, they would have one 'free' year, starting in August, if they did not wish to start college right away and wanted to figure out their future. After that one year is over, the NCAA starts the "clock" which is 4 years of eligibility. If you happen to take two years, for whatever reason, then you would lose one year of eligibility and only have 3 years to play.

The old rule was the 21 year old rule, in which the clock started at 21 (in most cases) - So if you needed time or had personal situations, you could still be a 21 year old freshman and play 4 years. There were the rare occasions in which you could actually start/play later, but these did not occur too often.

The tough thing about this approved NCAA rule, is that if you play in any 'organized' volleyball after that one free year, you not only lose a year of eligibility, but you have to sit out for one year!! Let's say you are PSA and you graduated high school in the spring yet were not ready emotionally/financially/academically to go to college in the fall and took a couple of years off. But, during your second year off, you joined an adult USA Volleyball team because you were thinking of playing college volleyball and you wanted to get some touches on the ball, you will now have burned one year of eligibility and you will also have to sit out for an entire year of competition.

The impact of this rule is that not too many college coaches are going to be willing to scholarship a player who only has 3 years of eligibility, and has to sit out one full year unless they are just an uber-stud.

When this Age Rule first came out, the common interpretation of this Free First year was indeed that; free to play with any and all types of teams (including professional) without it counting against you. This was a big change from the old rule, which started your clock automatically if you engaged in organized team activities. This Free First year is still being defined right now, as many compliance administrators and coaches are trying to understand the logic of this change.

It will impact international players the most and this was probably the intent (a number sports are under this rule starting now, and then basketball starts the next August - I don't know if Football is included because of the dominance of possible financial gain (real or imagined) related to recruiting success).

International players come from vastly different educational and youth sports philosophies - Many international students take time off between high school and college because it is a traditional exploration time or they have to go through intensive tests to qualify for college admission (which make our SAT/ACT test look easy) so they focus solely upon study for these tests post high school. In addition, many junior/youth volleyball programs continue for a year or so after high school because they are age bracketed; this is why you see such international competitions as the 19 and under or 21 and under FIVB championships.

It will be interesting to see if Age Discrimination lawsuits are brought forward and I believe your point about public schools is valid. I think that the NCAA took the easy way out to manage their concern of professionalism by international student athletes, by putting in play this age focused rule. The mandate of having to sit out a year, in addition to losing a year of eligibility, for participating in team competition is punitive - A player will be punished two years of opportunity by breaking a rule they did not know existed.

I hope that law suits are indeed brought against the NCAA for this age limit rule and the punitive protocol for daring to play on a team outside of a PSA's initial enrollment at a college/university. I don't like anything which limits opportunity or punishes student-athletes, when they have done nothing common sensible to merit such outcomes.

Just think about it - Life can get in the way, but now the NCAA says that Life is only entitled to one year; then, if some young person starts to train again in preparation for a time sensitive opportunity, they will be punished for playing with an amateur team!

If the NCAA is so concerned about the professional status of international players, then they should hire more staff and more staff with experience within the elite levels of sports to determine eligibility. For instance, I could be hired by the NCAA Clearinghouse and would have the ability to discern when a player is shooting straight or when they may be trying to hide something related to professionalism when it comes to volleyball. The NCAA has no lack of money, just a sometimes lack of common sense.

This Age Rule seems like they are throwing out the baby with the bath water, because it is easier than doing the harder work of verifying professional instances.

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