Clarifying John Johnson's Eligibility

Jim McIsaac

NCAA Bylaws are fun and confusing.

Pitt transfer guard John Johnson committed to Penn State yesterday giving Pat Chambers another Philadelphia native in his backcourt. But for how long exactly has become the big question.

As it turns out, I was initially confused on the NCAA's rules much like Mike Brey at Notre Dame was last year. I was under the assumption that since Johnson had yet to play an actual minute for the Panthers, he would be eligible for a redshirt season this year. Wrong.

To fully understand, we begin with the basics. Each student-athlete has four 'seasons of competition' that they are eligible to participate in. The NCAA allows each student-athlete to participate in those four seasons in five years, starting when the athlete is fully enrolled at the institution and attends the first day of classes. So basically you have a five years to compete in four, meaning you can take a redshirt year.

When transferring to another Division-1 institution, the player must satisfy one year of academic residence. Usually when players transfer in their respective sport's offseason, this academic residence allows you to redshirt, and players don't lose a season of competition while sitting out.

How do you determine one's 'season of competition'? The NCAA Manual says:

14.2.3.1 Minimum Amount of Competition. Any competition, regardless of time, during a season in an intercollegiate sport shall be counted as a season of competition in that sport, except as provided in Bylaws 14.2.3.1.1, 14.2.3.1.2, 14.2.3.1.3 and 14.2.3.1.4. This provision is applicable to intercollegiate athletics competition conducted by a two-year or four-year collegiate institution at the varsity or subvarsity level.

As you can see, there are some exceptions to this rule. None of them matter to most cases, although the most common one is where I made an erroneous assumption.

14.2.3.1.3 Preseason Exhibitions/Preseason Practice Scrimmages During Initial Year. During a student-athlete’s initial year of enrollment at the certifying institution, he or she may compete in preseason exhibition contests and preseason practice scrimmages (as permitted in the particular sport per Bylaw 17) without counting such competition as a season of competition.

Only freshmen are allowed the apparent luxury of playing in glorified exhibitions. But as soon as a sophomore (like Johnson), junior, or senior step out on the floor against Slippery Rock or Bloomsburg, their redshirt eligibility is toast.

So for Johnson, his sophomore season of competition will go down as playing 12 minutes and scoring 1 point against IUP. He can still apply for a seasons of competition waiver if he wishes to regain the year he is losing back, but a lack of playing time doesn't qualify as an extenuating circumstance in the NCAA's eyes. Unless there is more that meets the eye in Johnson's case, it seems safer to assume he will not be awarded the waiver.

He still is eligible to play at the conclusion of the 2013 fall semester, but if he chooses to play next year, that will count as his junior season of competition. A redshirt is still possible for him in his five-year window, so he can play two full seasons of competition. However, I wouldn't expect participating in 10 more non-conference games is worth it to a player who would then essentially be sitting out two years.

So until the official word comes down from the NCAA and Penn State, here's how the scholarship situation looks like for PSU. Johnson likely will have just 1.5 years in a Penn State uniform.


2012-2013 2013-2014 2014-2015 2015-2016
1 Tim Frazier Tim Frazier DJ Newbill Akosa Maduegbunam
2 Nick Colella Jermaine Marshall Jon Graham Brandon Taylor
3 Jermaine Marshall Sasa Borovnjak Pat Ackerman Donovon Jack
4 Sasa Borovnjak DJ Newbill Ross Travis Geno Thorpe
5 DJ Newbill Jon Graham John Johnson Julian Moore
6 Jon Graham Pat Ackerman Akosa Maduegbunam Payton Banks
7 Pat Ackerman Ross Travis Brandon Taylor Graham Woodward
8 Ross Travis John Johnson* Donovon Jack Isaiah Washington
9 John Johnson Akosa Maduegbunam Geno Thorpe
10 Akosa Maduegbunam Brandon Taylor Julian Moore
11 Brandon Taylor Donovon Jack Payton Banks
12 Donovon Jack Geno Thorpe Graham Woodward
13 Julian Moore Isaiah Washington


Payton Banks



Graham Woodward

Left 1 -2 0 5
Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman

*Not eligible until the conclusion of the 2013 fall semester.


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