November 18, 2010

No Regrets - Play College Volleyball

Dear Coach,

I am a sophomore at a big university in the south. Throughout high school I lead my varsity team to many wins along with my club teams. I had the opportunity to play volleyball in college and chose not to, but I work for the University's Volleyball team. Recently I have felt more and more regrets about not playing college volleyball and have been looking at many small college websites. Is there any chance I could transfer to a small college and play for their team as a junior, or is this something I am simply dreaming I could do?


Yes, there is more than a chance - If you can find a team and transfer enough credits/hours, you are still eligible per NCAA rules.

Key items to be aware of with the NCAA:

1. The 5 year clock.
2. The new NCAA rule about when this clock now starts.
3. Transfer protocol.
4. Minimum Academic progress.

Clock - The NCAA rules say that a Student Athlete has 5 years to complete 4 seasons of eligibility/competition (in certain injury cases, the NCAA may grant a 6th year of eligibility) in NCAA Division I Volleyball without stopping - so, once you begin your clock, it runs for 5 years. In Division II, there may be a slight variation of this rule which focuses on 10 total semesters (or equivalent quarters) with 8 of those being competitive, and you might be able to stop and start your clock - please excuse this fuzzy answer as it is something I remember from previous experience, but I suggest anyone within this DII Volleyball situation look at the website for the rule.

Starting Your Clock - Other than the day we are born, we have an eligibility clock which the NCAA has recently altered as to when this clock starts (not like at birth). The old clock start was when an athlete started full time classes at a university/college, or played on an organized team in their sport after their 21st birthday. This latter example is how there were many instances of 24 and 25 year old Seniors playing NCAA Volleyball. The new rule (which is still being refined/interpreted) says that after high school graduation, a Prospective Student Athlete has a one year window from first opportunity to enroll in college/university and then their 5 year clock will begin automatically. If a PSA starts college within this one year window, then the clock will start at that time. What the NCAA has now said, is that a PSA has one year to figure things out if they were not ready to start college right after high school graduation and then the clock is starting no matter what. Many feel this rule was a direct effort to 'manage' international student athletes and amateurism concerns.

Transfer Protocol - When a SA considers transferring from one four year institution to another four year institution (called a 4-4 transfer), they must have a Permission to Contact Letter (commonly called a "release", but this is not an accurate term) signed from their original school before they can contact other schools (technically they can contact, but other schools cannot respond until they have a copy of the Permission to Contact Letter). After the SA has presented the Permission to Contact Letter, gone through the recruiting/selection process again, satisfied Minimum Academic Progress for the new institution (see below for details), and then the original school signs the Release Letter which verifies that the SA would have been eligible at their original school and has not transferred from another institution to the original school, then the SA is eligible to transfer to their new school.

Minimum Progress - A few years ago, the NCAA enacted a program to try and get more athletes to graduate (football and basketball) and this is now called Minimum Academic Progress. Back in the day, the SA's just had to be eligible and this was done via the grade point average - SA's could just take a series of throw away, super easy classes to make grades and after 4 years of school they were no where near graduating, but they were eligible. Now,
SA's need to be in specific majors and attaining certain benchmarks of degree progress each year. I know by the start of a SA's Junior Year, they have to be at 40% of their degree major. While this has definitely changed the focus from eligibility to graduation, it has also mandated that SA's have to select their major earlier in their academic careers and they don't have the flexibility to make radical academic changes (going from a history to a biology major as a junior just because the pre-requisites in history would not apply to biology to satisfy Minimum Academic Progress).

After that exercise in NCAA rules, let's get A.T. going towards her goal:

Per NCAA rules, you started your clock when you began full time classes as a freshman at your school and you are in your second year of "clockage". Since you are not a current NCAA student-athlete, you can retroactively redshirt your first year (sounds silly since you did not play) and then you are using your first year of eligibility right now. At the end of this academic year, you will still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Since you are not a current SA, you will not need to obtain the Permission to Contact Letter, but you may have to have your current school confirm that you did not transfer to them (that you started there) and that you were not an intercollegiate student athlete; this would be up to your new school to determine.

As a college transfer, you will now be in competition with all graduating high school seniors and other college transfers. You are at a bit of a disadvantage, because you are two years removed from club and are not currently on a collegiate team.

Here is the game plan:

1. You should be playing as much volleyball as possible right now, in any way, shape or form. Pepper after practice with the team you are managing, keep the net up and buckets of ball to work on serving or convince someone to stay and set you balls, go play pick up ball in the school recreation center, go back to your club team now that club season is ramping up and jump in with practices, go back to your high school for spring time open gym, etc. The goal is to get your skill sets back up to the highest possible level.

2. Establish a very large and broad range of target institutions - Since you are already a college manager, as the college coaches to give you an honest evaluation of your ability. If they say you are lower level DI, then that is your target. If they say you are mid DII, then that is your target. You don't have the time to waste contacting schools which are above your level - You need to figure out what level you can play as quick as possible. If you are rated as a DII athlete, then you must start contacting any and all DII's which can fit your general preferences - DO NOT just contact small DII's within 3 hours of your home; this will just dramatically reduce your opportunities to find a team - Better to have too many options than not enough.

3. Generate a 5 to 7 minute skills video and find a reliable way to link this into your contact emails (like YouTube). Since you are not a current college player, this will be the picture the college coaches will see of you - They won't see you in club, they can't contact other college coaches for opinions, you can't send them game tape and they won't want to see anything from high school since it was two years ago. This is why you need to be touching a ball now, so you can get your skills back for the video tape. Remember that you can film 30 times to get that 7 minutes - great thing about video, especially digital video is the delete button; you don't like it, erase it and do it again.

4. Contact the schools via email and include just a brief summary of your situation, that you don't need a Permission to Contact Letter/Release, your physical stats and volleyball position(s) and academic standing, along with the link to the video. You just want to hit them with something quick, so they look at the video and contact you back - Short, Sweet and to the Point.

4. If you are contacting DII schools, be prepared and open to going for a tryout. NCAA allows DII programs to conduct tryouts and this is the opportunity to demonstrate your abilities and it also allows you to get a feel for how a coach/program operates their training sessions.

Good luck and if you really want to play college volleyball, then hard work and an open mind will allow you this once in a lifetime opportunity!
could just take a series of throw away, super easy classes to make grades and after 4 years of school they were no where near graduating, but they were eligible. Now,


  1. I committed to a college to play volleyball. I went through double days and I played in a tournament prior to classes starting. I enrolled in classes but but school hasn't started yet. Did my clock start, or do I actually have to attend classes for it to start?

  2. My understanding is since you have played in a competition, your clock has started and you have used one season of eligibility. Once you play, you are burned for the year, unless you get a season ending injury before the halfway point of the season and without playing in approximately 30% of the dates (usually equates to 6 matches or 3 weekends).


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