Free Style is a men’s swimming student-athlete at Ocean State University (OSU). Since OSU’s season is over, Free would like to swim in a few meets as an unattached competitor to get ready for a few international meets this summer. Is this permissible?
Yes with conditions. NCAA Bylaw 22.214.171.124 states that it is permissible for a student-athlete to participate in outside competition as an individual during the academic year in the student-athlete’s sport, as long as the student-athlete represents only himself or herself in the competition and does not engage in such competition as a member of or receive expenses from an outside team.
NCAA Educational Column- 11/17/05- Competing Unattached in Individual Sports– provides a some clarification on what constitutes competing unattached:
Q: Is it permissible for an institution to provide expenses (e.g., meals, entry fee, lodging) for a student-athlete to compete unattached, when that student-athlete is not representing the institution in competition (e.g., ineligible or “redshirting”)?
A: When a student-athlete competes unattached (i.e., competes as an individual, representing only himself or herself) in any competition, the institution may not provide any expenses to the participating student-athlete. The student-athlete is considered to be representing the institution in outside competition when provided expenses from the institution. This includes the institution providing transportation (e.g., individual riding on team bus to competition) to an unattached participant.
Q: May an unattached student-athlete wear the uniform of the institution?
A: No. Wearing the uniform of the institution constitutes representation of the institution; therefore, the student-athlete, by rule, would not be considered to be competing unattached if he or she were wearing the institution’s uniform. If the student-athlete triggers NCAA Bylaw 14.02.6 (intercollegiate competition), the student-athlete must be eligible to represent the institution in outside competition.
Q: Is the institution permitted to provide athletics training support prior to and after the match for student-athletes who are competing unattached?
A: No. As a general rule, such expenses may not be provided by the institution when the student-athlete is competing unattached. The provision of such services constitutes the receipt of expenses related to the competition. If the trainer (or other service provider) has been designated by the competition host to provide services to all participants; however, such services may be provided to the unattached student-athletes.
Q: Is it permissible for institutional coaches to provide coaching and instruction to an unattached student-athlete during competition?
A: No. A student-athlete who receives coaching or instruction (e.g., technique, comments related to performance, suggestions) from his or her coach while competing in an individual competition is considered to be representing the institution. As a result, the student-athlete must be eligible to represent the institution and such participation would constitute the use of one of the four seasons of competition. Further, institutional coaching staff members may not direct participating student-athletes to engage in coaching or instructional activities with student-athletes from the same institution who are competing unattached. [Note: A coaching staff member may engage in coaching activities with a student-athlete during the student-athlete’s participation in established national championship events (including junior national championships and Olympic, Pan American, World Championships, World Cup and World University Games qualifying competition.]
Q: Is it permissible for a sports club to provide expenses (e.g., travel, meals, lodging, uniform) to an individual competing unattached?
A: A student-athlete is permitted to receive actual and necessary expenses from an amateur team only when representing such a team in competition. If a student-athlete receives expenses from a club team, he or she would be representing that club team, as opposed to being considered unattached. It is important to note that in Division I sports other than basketball, a student-athlete may not represent an outside team (note exceptions in Bylaw 126.96.36.199) in competition during the academic year, except during vacation periods outside of the declared playing and practice season. In NCAA Divisions II and III, a student-athlete is permitted to represent an outside team at any time provided the competition takes place outside the declared playing and practice season. Thus, if the student-athlete is competing unattached (i.e., not representing the institution or any other team), all expenses must be self-funded, unless an exception exists (e.g., national team competition). Please note that Divisions I and II coaching staff members shall not be involved in any capacity, including coaching or as an administrator, during the academic year, with a club team that includes student-athletes from their own team. In Division III, an institutional coaching staff member may not be involved with a wrestling club team that includes their own student-athletes at any time, including outside the academic year. [Bylaws 188.8.131.52.4.3 (Divisions I/II/III); 14.7.1 and 184.108.40.206.2.1 (Divisions I/II); 220.127.116.11 (Division I); 18.104.22.168.1 and 22.214.171.124 (Division II); 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.1 (Division III)].
Q: May an unattached student-athlete’s institutional affiliation be identified in any manner (e.g., in a program, by an announcer)?
A: Identification of the unattached student-athlete’s institutional affiliation, in and of itself, does not constitute representation of the institution in intercollegiate competition; however, it is advisable that the unattached student-athlete’s participation is clearly defined as being independent of the institution in order to avoid any confusion related to the student-athlete’s participation.
Jennifer M. Condaras
Deputy Commissioner, NCAA Relations & Administration
Colonial Athletic Association
The opinions expressed in the Daily Compliance Item are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by The COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION or JumpForward. The Daily Compliance Item is not a substitute for a compliance office, case specific research, or the NCAA Bylaws. Do some homework, ask around, and get it right.