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The NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted Friday to allow fall athletes an extra year of eligibility, but Ivy League rules leave Penn athletes unsure of where they stand.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Another lost season, another extension of eligibility. But Penn's athletes still might not benefit.

In a similar decision from earlier this year that saw spring athletes allowed an extra year of playing time with their college teams, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors announced Friday its intention to give the same offer to fall athletes.

The move was made to remove pressure from schools to continue with a fall season and allow athletes to prioritize their own health, as an increasing number of colleges shift from in-person or hybrid classes to virtual learning as the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the country.

With more than 5.6 million cases currently reported nationwide, in addition to a number of colleges reporting outbreaks as students return to campus, individual conferences and schools have announced the cancellation of fall sports, but no universal decision has come from the NCAA overall.

The Ivy League was the first Division I conference to make such an statement when it did so on July 8. Other leagues — notably the Big Ten and the Pac-12, two of the Power Five conferences — have followed suit in the following weeks in the interest of athlete safety. However, some conferences like the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference are opting for a shortened season in lieu of a general cancellation.

But just as in the spring, it remains to be seen if the NCAA's decision will extend to Ancient Eight athletes. Ivy League rules state that students who graduate can no longer participate in athletic competition, so current seniors would have to remain enrolled through next fall to stay on their teams. A number of spring athletes who graduated this past May thus opted to transfer schools for their final year of eligibility rather than continue with the Red and Blue.

If approved by the Ivy League, the move would affect Penn's football, soccer, cross country, field hockey, and volleyball athletes, and would be a historic change of precedent that could impact the makeup of Ancient Eight teams for years to come.

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