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The following is a brief summary of eligibility requirements as set forth by the NCAA. Becoming thoroughly familiar with eligibility requirements is essential for all students who want to compete in college athletics. Links have been provided throughout this summary to relevant pages of the NCAA's official website which further detail specific aspects of eligibility, and to other sites which offer additional information. Please note that this is only a summary, and contacting the NCAA directly is the best way to answer specific questions you may have in regard to any aspect of intercollegiate athletics. You are advised to read our disclaimer below.

NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse
Academic Eligibility
Definition of "Redshirt"
Graduate Student Eligibility
Foreign Students

NCAA Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse

The first step a prospective student-athlete must take to establish eligibility is to register with the NCAA's Initial Eligibility Clearinghouse (P.O. Box 4044, Iowa City, IA 52243-4044, (319) 339-3003). Registration and certification through the Clearinghouse are required of all student-athletes and should be undertaken after their junior year of high school. Registration costs $25, although this fee can be waived if a student received a waiver for SAT or ACT fees. Students who were exclusively home-schooled during grades 9 to 12 do not need to register with the Clearinghouse and instead are certified through an intial-eligibility waiver application. To access a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the NCAA's initial eligibility requirements, please refer to the following NCAA web pages:

Academic Eligibility

Division I - In order to become a "qualifier" as defined by the NCAA, prospective student-athletes are required to have graduated from high school, and to have successfully completed a core curriculum consisting of the following:

  • English (4 years)
  • Mathematics (2 years)
  • Science (2 years)
  • Social Science (2 years)
  • An additional course in English, mathematics or science (1 year)
  • Additional courses in any of the above, or in computer science, philosophy, nondoctrinal religion or foreign language (2 years)
A "qualifier" must also achieve a combination of minimum grade-point average (in the core curriculum) and minimum SAT/ACT score as indicated by the NCAA's "Division I Qualifier Index" (see link below).

Division II - "Qualifiers" must graduate from high school with a grade-point average of 2.0 (in the core curriculum) and score either an 820 on the SAT, or a 68 on the ACT. Core ccurriculum requirements are the same as Division I, except that one less year of English is required and can be accounted for instead in either English, mathematics or science.

Division III - There are no NCAA requirements for Division III athletics.

Student-ahletes that do not meet the above requirements are either "partial qualifiers" or "nonqualifiers," and are subject to practice and competition restrictions during their first year of college or university. Disabled students, "partial qualifiers," and "nonqualifiers" may apply for waivers of the initial-eligibility requirements. Students with disbilities may apply for waivers directly, others must apply through the school they plan to attend.

For more detailed eligibility information, including the "Division I Qualifier Index," access the NCAA website. Follow these links for further information regarding testing requirements and procedures.

Definition of a "Redshirt"

Each student-athlete is eligible for four years of competition in each of their chosen sports. If a qualified incoming student-athlete is "redshirted" his or her freshman year (i.e., practices but does not compete), four full years of eligibility still remain. An extra year of eligibility can also be granted via a "hardship waiver" if a student-athlete suffers an incapacitating injury or illness in the course of a season. The injury must occur during the first half of the season and the student-athlete, in Divisions I and II, must not have participated in more than two contests or 20% of the school's completed contests, whichever is greater. In Division III, the threshhold is three contests or 33% of completed contests, whichever is greater. For more information on redshirt eligibility, access the NCAA website.

Graduate Student Eligibility

Graduate students who attend the same school at which they earned their undergraduate degree, may participate in athletics if they have eligibility remaining and participate within five years of their original, full-time enrollment. Subject to the same time limitation and certain transfer rules, graduate students may also participate in athletics at a school other than their undergraduate school (barring Division I football, basketball and hockey). For more information on graduate student eligibility, access the NCAA website.


Becoming a professional athlete ends NCAA eligibility permanently (note: student-athletes who have lost their eligibility by turning professional may petition the NCAA for reinstatement). You are a professional if, for example, you are paid for participating in any athletic contest, if you sign a contract or verbally commit with an agent or professional sports team, or if you are paid for a demonstration of athletics. You may, at your own expense, tryout with a professional sports team, or be reimbursed for expenses incurred for visits to sports organizations (one visit per team). You are allowed to be paid for teaching lessons in your sport. For further information regarding turning professional, access the NCAA website.


The NCAA conducts drug testing at all three Division levels. All student-athletes must sign a drug-testing consent form. Positive tests result in the loss of one season of competition. For more information, visit FindLaw's Drug Watch page, and the NCAA's Drug Testing page.

Foreign Students

Foreign students are also required to meet minimum standards, including a minimum score on the SAT. Eligibility requirements vary from country to country and may be found in the NCAA's Guide to International Academic Standards for Athletics Eligibility.

Please note: On March 8, 1999, a Pennsylvania federal district judge, in Cureton v. NCAA, found the NCAA's initial-eligibility requirements to be invalid. On December 22, 1999, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's summary judgment ruling in favor of the NCAA. For the NCAA's reaction to and commentary on the case, access their website.

Additional Cureton v. NCAA resources:

March 8, 1999 Opinion and Order Invalidating NCAA's Initial-Eligibility Requirements
December 22, 1999 Third Circuit Opinion and Order reversing the District Court
U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, docket listings regarding Cureton
Marquette University School of Law, National Sports Law Institute, Synopsis of Cureton case
Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice ("TLPJ," plaintiffs' counsel) Press Releases


This summary has been prepared for educational and informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion. Transmission of the information is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, a lawyer-client relationship between FindLaw, the authors, and you.

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