Military Service and Your NCAA Eligibility


It’s not uncommon for high school student-athletes to enlist in the U.S. military after Military Service and Your NCAA Eligibility graduation. There are many reasons they do this, whether it be an opportunity for a clean start, a need for direction and focus, or just the passion and dedication for their country. Whatever the case may be, it often requires the sacrifice of giving up the sport they have competed in for so long.

Because of the commitment enlisting in the military requires, plans for college often get delayed or affected somehow. This also means that a student-athlete who wants to compete in college can’t compete until their service is over. This can cause problems in the eligibility process because of the NCAA’s Five-Year Rule. This rule stipulates that college student-athletes have five years to complete their four years of eligibility. In most college sports, athletes’ eligibility clocks start counting down only one year after their high school graduation. Obviously, those athletes who enlist in the military can’t plan on being able to use their eligibility until they have finished their service.

The NCAA recognizes the sacrifice that soldiers make and have created exceptions to the Five-Year Rule for them. Here are the two most important rules for student-athletes who spend time in the military: – Service Exceptions to the Five-Year Rule.
Time spent in the armed services, on official religious missions or with recognized foreign aid services of the U.S. government is excepted from the application of the five-year rule. Among such services that qualify a student-athlete for an extension of the five-year rule are: (Revised: 4/2/10)
(a) Military Sea Transport Service;
(b) Peace Corps; or
(c) Service as a conscientious objector ordered by the Selective Service Commission (or the equivalent authority in a foreign nation) in lieu of active military duty.

– This rule basically stops an athlete’s five-year clock when they enlist in active duty in the military. – Military Service Exception.
The student returns from at least 12 months of active service in the armed forces of the United States. (Revised: 1/9/06, 1/17/09 effective 8/1/09)

– This rule allows athletes to play immediately (without sitting out) if you transfer schools after leaving the military.

Finding a scholarship opportunity to play college sports as a military veteran is still possible. Even though you may be out of practice from your sport and unable to send a recent highlight video, coaches recognize the sacrifice you have made as a veteran. Plus, many of the things you learn in the service like team work, focus, and dedication are the same characteristics that coaches look for in athletes.

If you have more questions about finding a scholarship as a veteran or other recruiting questions, leave a comment below or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter to start learning about recruitment.

99 Responses to “Military Service and Your NCAA Eligibility”

  1. Colton Netzer

    What if you went to a Community College for a year after high school and was only full time one quarter, then took a year off, then enlisted into the military. How many years of eligibility would I lose? Can i redshirt that one year i went to college and still have $ years left to play?

    • You cannot redshirt past years. So you have already used up one year of eligibility. So you should have about 3 years left since your eligibility clock stopped when you enlisted. I would contact the NCAA Eligibility Center once you are ready to play again and make sure that’s correct.

  2. rhonda cue

    My son is at. Community college playing baseball. He calls me today wanting to go in the military and continue to play baseball. I know drone yrs. Back someone did. What step would he needs to take if he decide to.

    • John Infante

      He generally does not need to do anything. The most important step is to keep documentation of when he leaves college, when he starts military service, and when his service ends. He also needs to keep in mind that when he finishes his service, he will need to enroll at the opportunity or he may begin to lose eligibility.

  3. If someone went to college at age 18 and attended for 5 years playing 2 years of college sports. Is there any way that 18 years later they can attend another college either as an undergraduate or graduate and play college football with the ncaa (they havent played any football yet). I understand that they wouldnt have eligibility but has the NCAA made exceptions for someone before? Is this rule always enforced? Is there any way to petition around this?

  4. Jarron Jackson

    Hello, Im in the military, I joined at the age of 21, and I’ll be out as soon as I turn 25, does this mean I only have 2 yrs of football elgibility?? because I waited until I was 21 to join?

    • David Frank

      Without having your complete transcripts and knowing all of the details behind what you were doing between 18 and 21 it is difficult for me to give you an accurate answer. Once you begin talking to college coaches and they have their athletic department staff look over your information you will know how much eligibility you have left.

  5. Eric Schwartz

    I graduated high school and accepted an athletic football scholarship. I played for one full academic year and failed out of school. I was redshirted that freshmen season and then worked for about a year and a half and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, I served on active status for 4 years in the infantry and would like to know if I would have any eligibility to try and walk on to a program again.

    • David Frank

      It is possible that you could have a couple years of eligibility. Ultimately, the final decision will come from the NCAA and the athletic department at the school you want to play for will be your best resource. Have you identified a school you want to play for and contacted the coaches at that school?

  6. Nicholas Nguyen

    I attended a D2 school for football not on scholarship when I was 18. I redshirted my freshman year, and immediately left for boot camp 1 month after school ended? I’ll be 25 when I enroll in school again. Will I still have eligibility left?

  7. Jeremy

    I was on scholarship at a private, NAIA university and went to school three semesters and also played 2 seasons of football there. I enilsted after that third semester into the Marines. If I play for an NCAA school after I get out will I still have 2 years of eligibility left or will I have 4 since I originally played for an NAIA school instead of an NCAA school?

  8. nowa blabuh

    I am currently 20 yrs of age and about to enlist in the national guard I was going to a community college but didn’t play any sport since high school after I get done with the training camp for the guard can I attend a four year school and still have eligibility left to play and if so how many years will I have left

  9. I have a nephew who is considering attending a two-year military institute. They have a program to prepare their students for possible entry into a US Service Academy. If he attends the institute and plays football for two years, then is admitted to an Academy, he will have to start the Academy in year one. Will he, at best, only have two years of NCAA eligibility left, or are their exceptions for Academy students of some sort?

  10. If you have already served in the military and are coming out after 4 years, what would the process be for transferring into a school where you didn’t have the high school grades to get in and Would you still have NCAA eligibility left after this process?

    • David Frank

      You need to contact the coaches at that school and see what your options are. There are a lot of details that go into determining eligibility, I wouldn’t be able to answer that without knowing the admissions standards for the school and having all of your academic records. Best of luck.

  11. Josh Connor

    Hi. I graduated West Point in 2005 and commissioned as an officer in the Army. I have been on active duty since May 2005 and remain on active duty today. I am on active duty orders as a graduate student at the University of South Florida and wish to walk on to the cross country team. I started the USF graduate school program in May 2012. Would i still be eligible to compete as an active duty officer who is attending school and has not yet exited the service? Thanks.

    • David Frank

      Probably not, because of your time at West Point, your eligibility click would have started. I would contact the coaches at USF and they can give you the final word on your eligibility. Good luck.

  12. I am a Junior in high school now and I would like to be recruited to swim in a D1 school. However, I have to serve a 2 years compulsory military service immediately after HS in my home country. Does that kill my chances of being recruited? pls advise. Thanks

    • David Frank

      No it doesn’t kill your chances, but it is critical you establish a list of schools interested in having you swim for them once our military service is complete. Have you contacted any coaches? Are their schools actively recruiting you?

  13. Anonymous

    Ok I joined the USMC at 19 , before that i graduated hih school from there I took the semester off of school, I hen enrolled into a community college and took 2 classes then enlisted. I plan on playing college baseball imediatly after my servise, what do I need to figure out now so I can worry about training in the sport and not about the rules.?

    • David Frank

      You want to find the school or coaches who want you to play for them once you are done with the military. The second most important thing is that you enroll in a school right away once you are no longer active duty.

  14. Anonymous

    My son is 19 years old. He graduated high school in May, 2012. He left for USMC boot camp on Dec 17, 2012. He is now on active duty and will be for the next four years. He told me today he is thinking about getting out after his 4 year commitment and going to college to play football. He did take the ACT in high school but only scored an 18.
    So, with all of this being new to me, I have a lot of questions. I would prefer he stays in the Marine Corps, but I will support whatever decision he makes.
    In your opinion, if he chooses to get out and go to college and play football, what is the path? Are there things he should be doing right now to make that path easier? From reading above, it looks like he would have 5 years of eligibility left? He will have his GI Bill. How will that affect anything? What if he is offered a scholarship?
    It’s amazing how one conversation with him can cause so much thought! Thanks for your help!

    • David Frank

      The most important thing for your son is finding a college program that wants to have him come play for them once he is done. In order to do that, he will want to begin emailing coaches at the schools he is interested in attending once he is done. The most important thing is that he has the school he will be attending lined up before he is done with the military. Thanks for your question.

  15. Anonymous

    Graduated from a a D. I school (not a Service Academy), and played 3 years. Didn’t play 4, because we had 3 head coaches and 3 compeletly different coaching staffs in 3 years (not the best situation). Then went to OCS and served 6 years active and 1 year ready reserve, plus 1 year inactive reserve (8 year contract). Now going back to grad school, and wondering if the combination of military service and coaching situation as an undergrad might position me for an eligibility waiver to take advantage of a 4th year of eligibility?

    • David Frank

      The coaching situation is not going to impact the decision on how many years of eligibility you have. Your eligibility is on hold only during full active duty. So essentially you lost a year during your inactive reserve year and probably another your ready reserve year. Because you played three years already you had 2 years to play 1 as soon as you went active duty. You lost those two years while a reserve. Of course this is my best estimate and you are free to contact schools and see if they are interested in recruiting you, but this is ultimately the decision I think would be made. Best of luck.

  16. Anonymous

    I went to a junior college for 1year after i graduated H.S. but did not play any sports. I joined the Army and been enlisted for 7 years now, im about to get out and was wondering am i still eligible to play any college sports. I been taking online courses and i am a classified sophmore, will i still need to take the SAT or ACT

    • David Frank

      As long as you have been active duty the entire time you should have some eligibility left. Because you have been enlisted for 7 years, you might not be eligible at all division levels. You will need begin contacting the schools and coaches you are interested in and inquiring about the opportunity to play for them. My suggestion would be to start at NAIA schools. Thank you for your service and good luck.

  17. Anonymous

    I attended a Div.1 university post high school from Fall 2000-Dec.’03 (never played / scholarship, or even contacted a coach at this time, just attended school), enlisted in the Marine Corps Jan.’04 – Jul.’12 (still no contact with any coach) just finish first year of grad school (Fall 12-spring and summer ’13) .I understand the 5 year rule, and I know that military service “freezes” eligibility. Additionally I know that the 5 year isn’t really 5 years (i.e. Chris Weinke) I also understand that some rules have changed since then and the 5 year rule varies sport by sport. My question is since I did military service, does the 5 year clock start immediately after service, or does it just suspend the clock “permanently freeze” it until you want to begin using eligibility? Also did I lose the eligibility from Fall’00-Dec.03 since I didn’t play? The sport in question is Div. 1 football, and anything other than contact a coach or school compliance officer would be much appropriated (I plan on it as soon as I hear back from this response. That is unless it would be a waste of their time, hence the purpose of this post.)

    • David Frank

      Yes you lost eligibility when you began attending a university. Your clock freezes only when you are active duty. Once you are no longer active duty, your clock starts again. Keep in mind, there are all sorts of extensions and possible ways to get additional years that only the compliance officers would be aware of. You should still contact them, just to make certain you are in your last year of eligibility. Thank you for your service.

  18. Anonymous

    I graduated high school in may of 2011. I enlisted in the navy June of 2012. I get out of the navy September of 2016, and will be turning 23 in October. So how many years of eligibility will I have?

    • David Frank

      Your eligibility is put on hold while you are active duty military. This means once you are done with active duty, you have five years to play four years. Thank you for your service.

    • David Frank

      It all depends on your ability and what type of school you are looking for. You need to find the school(s) you like and get in contact with the coaches, the scholarship offers come after that. Are you in contact with any coaches? When are you going to be ready to start in college?

  19. Anonymous

    I graduated high school 2005 went to community college part time and worked full time till 2010. I enlisted for the army in 2010 and my contract is up in 2014 i would like to walk-on to a div-1 university and play football would i still have eligibility left?? I i’ll be 27 fall of 2014

    • David Frank

      Due to your delayed enrollment into the military, you have lost several years of eligibility. Without looking over your transcripts in detail, I would not be able to answer the question about how much eligibility you have left, if any. You are going to need a school interested in recruiting you review your transcripts. Best of luck and thank you for your service.

  20. Anonymous

    I played college football at a division 1 school after I graduated high school in 2010 played my freshman year and medically redshirted the next. Following the 2012 school year I enlisted in the military at 20 years old. Would I still have eligibility left after my active duty military commitment is up in 2016?

  21. Anonymous

    I am currently 18 years old and recently graduated this past spring of 2013. I am soon to enlist into the Marine Corps as a reservist which means I will go to college after I complete boot camp and other training. Is it possible for me to walk on for football if I am a student at the school but also a reservist Marine?

  22. Anonymous

    I graduated hs 2005 went to community college from 2007-2008 enrolled full time but dropped down to part time before the semester was over each semester. i joined the army active duty in feb 2011 and im done in 2014? Do i have any eligiblity left?? i wanna play div. 1 football

    • David Frank

      What were you doing between 2008 and 2011? Based on the gap between when you started school and between your Junior College stent and becoming active duty you might not have much if any eligibility left.

      The best thing to do is begin contacting college coaches and see if they will have one of their athletic department staff members review your transcripts. Best of luck.

  23. Anonymous

    I am an Active Duty (AD) member stationed in Colorado, but I attend FIU (online) as a Junior. I have never played a sport at the college-level, but would like to. Now, as an AD member, am I required to be a full-time student, undergraduate, and be stationed at the same location of the university I am attending?

    • David Frank

      We are talking about a situation where you would be playing college sports once you are no longer AD. If you are AD I don’t see a situation where you can also be playing college sports. Under your current situation, I would be careful that you aren’t losing eligibility. Have you tried to contact any college coaches or do you have an idea of where you would like to play once you are no longer AD?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t plan on getting out of AD, but the military does have programs (assuming it projects a good military image) where they will allow you to play sports and remain on AD and continue to get paid. It’s a lengthy process, but doable. I have contacted my unviersity, but I haven’t gotten a reply back yet. I was just wondering if you might have known anything regarding a situation like this. I believe the Air Force Academy has a program where AD members can play for them, but must meet some type of requirement. I was wondering if other colleges have the same.

  24. Anonymous

    I signed with Fcs charleston southern for football out of high school in 2009. I left in 2010 because of injuries. It has taken me three years to finally overcome my chronic injuries. I want to walk on to a division 1 school. Is there any way to petition the five year clock because there was no possible i could have played due to my injuries including a couple surgeries.

    • David Frank

      You are going to the help of a DI program in order to get any additional years of eligibility. Are you in contact with any schools? Do you know what school you want to walk on too?

  25. Anonymous

    Lee Miller
    I am currently active duty, I joined while I was in highschool and left right after graduation. I was 17 at the time. My contract is for 5 years but I have already served two years of it. I want to get out of the military, even though there are certain programs that allow you to be military but still attend school it’s a difficult process though, especially with me being military police. So I just want to get out and play what steps would I have to go threw. I only remember taking my SATs in school idk if you have to have ACTs or not. Appreciate a response.

  26. Anonymous

    I am currently Active Duty in the Air Force, I graduated from High School in May of 2008. I Played Football in Highschool, but went to college on an Academic Scholarship (In August 2008). I withdrew from school (Jan 2009) and pursued a career in the Military (Dec 2009). The 15th of December will be my 4 year mark in the Air Force and I will only have 2 years left on my contract. I’m only 23 and wanted to if I would still be able to play Collegiate Ball when my term is up? Appreciate a respone.

    • David Frank

      Your eligibility is put on hold while you are active duty. You may have lost one year of eligibility (your first year in college) then your clock stopped. You want to begin contacting coaches as soon as possible and looking for opportunities once you are out of the military. Best of luck.

    • David Frank

      It is possible. You will want to begin reaching out to universities you are interested in and see if you can have the coaches get an answer from their athletic department about your eligibility. Thank you for your service.

  27. Anonymous

    I’m a Marine veteran at a Division I university. It’s been little over a year since I left the service and now that I’m a full-time student, I am very interested in playing college football. Before I came to the Division I school, I transferred from a private university similar to DeVry University. I was able to enroll without having to submit any SAT or ACT scores for academic eligibility for both schools. My question is, will I have to take these exams in order to become eligible for NCAA sports, even after I have already become enrolled as a student and currently attending?

    • David Frank

      Determining your eligibility with the NCAA will require someone to look over your complete transcripts. The most important thing is that you find a team to play for (you do this by emailing coaches). An interested coach will have their compliance office review your eligibility. Best of luck.

  28. Anonymous

    I’m currently in the army, stationed in the 173rd in Italy Airborne infantryman. i get out the army in may. After work every day i go to the gym dreaming of getting out and playing football again in college or pro. My life is football and wanting to get a college degree.
    Why I want to play College Sports:
    Every Saturday and Sunday i watch the games, And i say to myself that should be me, Ive served my country for 4 years, Its my time to play ball again. I train everyday to get back on the field. I train everyday to get better, I wanna play D1 ball and i know im good enough and have the ability to play at any level, I just need a chance. I bench 465, Squat 500, 225 rep 29x 40 yrd dash 4.58.

    out of high school may 2008 i went to college and played football for a NAIA college in kansas, after 1 semester i realized that college wasn’t for me and left the school. i was in college from August 2008 to jan 2009. then worked jobs until feb 2, 2010 when i enlisted. been active duty since feb 2nd 2010, do i still have eligibility? does me being active duty for the last 4 years stop the clock at all? thanks for the help, i really want to play for a major college, Mizzou, kansas, K-state, and help? please and thank you.

    • David Frank

      Your eligibility is put on hold when you are active duty. You would have lost some eligibility before you were in the military but it sounds like you could have a few years left.

      I would try contacting the coaches a the schools you are interested in and see what they say.

  29. Anonymous

    Hi I did 3 years of track at a D1 school and left for the military. I had honorable discharge and left the military at the age of 23. I am now 30. I have not gone back to school yet. Is my eligibility over?

    • David Frank

      Yes. Your eligibility is put on hold while you are active duty and you begin losing eligibility once you are no longer active duty. Because you had seven years between your discharge and how, you would have lost your final year of eligibility. Thank you for your service.

  30. Anonymous

    I was a non AQ coming out of high school. I am currently enlisted in the navy. I plan on completing my service and want to walk on at a d1 school. Can I enroll immediately ?

    • David Frank

      If you were an non AQ out of high school, you will still be an non AQ after you are done with the service. You could still enroll in the school, but will not be eligible to compete right away.

  31. Anonymous

    Well I graduated in 09 joined the military in 11-12, during my time in service I’ve played semi-pro ball without taking money except for things outlined by NCAA guideline (I.E. Lodging, and travel food) would that effect my eligibility?

    • David Frank

      It is possible you will lose eligibility for playing in organized competition. You are not allowed to compete in organized competition and maintain your full eligibility.

  32. Anonymous

    I played two years of D3 Lacrosse in 2003 and 2004. I attended college full time for those two years. After the 2004 season I left school and worked for a year and a half and then joined the military. I have been in the military for 9 years since December of 2005. I am currently 30 years old. I should have 2 years of eligiblity left according to the rules. Is there a age restriction for military service members after they get out?

  33. Anonymous

    Two parter:

    I joined the military immediately after high school and will retire in a couple of years. I have attended college numerous times over the last 20 years, but have not yet completed my degree. I have never played for any of the colleges I’ve attended either.

    Is elligibility tied to degree completion while serving full-time on active duty?

    Does the number of years served while on active duty affect elligibility or is it tied to age?

    • David Frank

      I am not sure how eligibility is determined for active duty who took classes while they were active duty. My guess is you could still play at the Junior College level, but I don’t know about the NCAA or NAIA level.

      • Anonymous

        During Active duty your time is stopped no matter what. I myself, am active duty and will be getting out after serving my 6 year term. during this time i was told by the coach from Cal State Bakersfield to attend school now at any college and get some classes in so we could transfer me in. so your question it is not tied to your degree or the amount of classes you take.

      • Anonymous

        your time is not tied to the amount of schooling you do while in the military. the NCAA rules onty state once you leave active duty your time starts again.

  34. Anonymous

    My son is 16 and after high school is required to join the army for 2 years under compulsory home country legislation. If he plays for the home country in international tournaments or takes part in competitions during the army will this breach the NCCA regulations on no participation in organised competition or is playing while in the army exempt?

    • David Frank

      Most likely he will not be exempt. There have been a couple cases this past year where athletes in the military lost a year or two of eligibility while playing organized competition in the military.

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