USCHO.com reported on Saturday, Aug. 29, that the NCAA has implemented a series of rule changes given the unforeseen nature of the upcoming college hockey season. Most notably, altering collegiate eligibility requirements that would allow players to participate in junior hockey (USHL, NAHL, etc.) with an outside organization while still enrolled in college.
Normally, players would not be able to participate in NCAA competition while rostered to a junior team, and doing so would force them to either postpone playing college hockey or lose a year of eligibility. However, this only applies to players whose schools are not playing during the fall semester (college hockey season usually begins in October, despite being a winter sport). If a player does elect to play junior hockey this fall while staying enrolled in school, they must maintain grades in compliance with academic standards, along with following COVID-19 protocol in their area.
Consequently, the NCAA made changes to the 21-year-old eligibility rule, which causes incoming players to lose a year of college eligibility if they play a junior hockey game after their 21st birthday. The rule change for this season would allow them to play junior hockey even after they turn 21 while still maintaining four years of eligibility.
There is also a recruiting freeze through the end of September, known as a “dead period,” where coaches are not allowed to participate in any in-person recruiting. The National Letter of Intent signing period is still scheduled to begin on Nov. 11.
In terms of academic standards, the NCAA dropped ACT/SAT requirements for incoming athletes, given that COVID-19 may have made it difficult to meet this requirement. They also altered how they compute and review academic requirements from high school to accommodate challenges with hybrid or online classes, and classes that are graded on a pass/fail basis.
It’s expected that almost all these rule changes are in response to challenges faced with the current pandemic and not long term alterations.