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Would Cal's Mid-Year Enrollees Play in 2021 Spring Games?

NCAA is expected to rule on this unprecedented issue soon; Bears coach Justin Wilcox said the starting date of a possible spring season would determine if he would play those players

Will highly rated Cal commits Akili Calhoun and Jermaine Terry, who plan to enroll at Cal in January, be eligible to play in games this winter or spring if the Pac-12 has a winter or spring football season? And if they are eligible, would Cal coach Justin Wilcox play them so soon after becoming college students?

These questions were raised after the Pac-12 announced in early August that it would not have a fall football season but is leaving open the possibility of a winter or spring season in 2021.

Calhoun, a defensive end from Brentwood, Calif., and Terry, a tight end from Richmond, Calif., are four-star recruits, and they are among a handful of Cal commits for 2021 who plan to entroll at Cal in mid-year (the UC Berkeley spring term begins January 19). 

The logic seems simple: Since incoming freshmen who enroll in the fall are eligible to play games that fall, why wouldn't incoming freshmen who enroll in the winter be eligible to play games that winter or spring?

The fall football season at California high schools was canceled, so players, such as Calhoun and Terry, would not be overly taxed physically if they played in the winter or spring. Some had opted out of their senior year of high school football anyhow.

Complicating the issue is the NCAA ruling that athletes who participate in games in the 2020-2021 academic year are granted an additional year of college eligbility.  Where would mid-year enrollees fit into that?

An NCAA ruling on whether mid-year enrollees can play in the spring is expected in early September, and a Sports Illustrated report titled "Mid-Year Enrollees for 2021 Holding Out Hope for Eligibility in Possible Spring Football Season" included this excerpt:

The NCAA might dash those hopes. The buzz around this issue has reached one of the highest rule-making committees in NCAA Division I. The Football Oversight Committee explored the situation last week and plans to further examine it during its meeting next week, says West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons, chair of the Oversight Committee. He personally believes that mid-year arrivals should not be eligible to play a winter or spring season, but he’s not certain what course the committee will choose.

There is strong opposition—especially from those schools still planning to play a fall season—against such an unprecedented ruling. It creates an imbalance among the 10 FBS conferences: the six still working toward a fall season and the four planning to play a season starting in January–March. Is it fair that one group of mid-year freshmen get an extra season? Such a thing could be dangled in recruiting as an inducement to sway prospects. It could be a significant disadvantage for those playing in fall.

“There’s certainly been discussion about eligibility,” says Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and a member of the Oversight Committee. “Do they get a free year? They are doing it in this academic year. It’s a challenging proposition.”

At the center of the issue is the NCAA's ruling last week to grant fall sports athletes an extra year of eligibilty, no matter if they play in the 2020–21 academic year or not. A mid-year enrollee is technically a fall sport athlete—or is he? “The question is, is the interpretation going to apply for mid-year enrollees?” Lyons says. “There is a recruiting disadvantage for those playing (in the fall). You don’t have the opportunity to say ‘You get to play in the spring if you come here. I don’t think that was the intent of the eligibility (change). It’s about those who were already enrolled.”

There are other issues.

If the mid-year enrollees are allowed to play in the winter and spring, would they be allowed to practice with the team before they enroll, in, say, December? You would think so since incoming freshmen in the fall can practice with the team before they begin classes. But this is an unprecedented situation. Besides, the players who have committed to Cal for 2021 won't officially be bound to Cal until the early signing day, which is Dec. 16.

Furthermore, we don't know whether the Pac-12 will even have a winter or spring football season, and if it doesn't, the entire debate is moot.

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But what if the Pac-12 does play football in the spring, and what if the mid-year entrollees are ruled to be eligible for 2021 winter or spring games? Would Wilcox play them?

It depends -- as he notes about halfway through this video:

"Then it comes back to 'When do you start practice?'" Wilcox said. "Are they going to be up to speed -- are you starting practice in December or January, when does it start?"

Since he doesn't know those answers he doesn't know whether he would play those players. 

"If the first game is January 7th, no," he said. "If the first game is February 20th, OK, maybe."

That can only be answered if and when the Pac-12 releases a spring football schedule.


Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53

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