The Van Wilder of College Running
Ain't nothin' wrong with a little victory lap, but every once and a while you see a few folks with the shameless pride to try for a few extra meters of glory. Rather than carrying on with a variety of vague references before finally disclosing what I'm actually talking about, I'll just go ahead and tell you that I'm referring to the infamous Rule 126.96.36.199, or if you'd rather, the "sixth year" rule.
What is this rule I speak of? The traditional "4 from 5 rule," or Rule 14.2.1 if you are into the formality of it all, states that an athlete must complete all athletic eligibility within 5 years of beginning studies at the academic institution. The "sixth year" rule essentially provides a little bit of a loophole, beyond a medical redshirt, through which to sidestep any 4 (years of eligibility) from 5 (total years) nonsense. It is a loophole, however; it is not a loophole open to all, and at the end of the day it's the NCAA's decision to grant, or not grant an extra year.
Rule 188.8.131.52 allows an athlete to gain an extra year of eligibility if their training and racing during a prior year was entirely geared toward qualifying for a major championship and forced said athlete to miss collegiate competition. Typically British athletes who transfer into the NCAA system after prior competition in the British Universities and College Sport (BUCS) system tend to benefit from this rule the most as it allows them to claim that any competition in their collegiate system during a certain year was in an effort to qualify for a major championship. Even though they may have competed collegiately during that year, the year can be earned back once they enter the NCAA system thanks to the loophole. It is possible for others to benefit from the loophole, most notably Ryan Vail who was granted a 6th year on the basis that he made the World Cross Country Championships in 2008, but the vast majority of athletes who take advantage of this rule are from abroad.
So now I've explained it, poorly at best, what do you think? Is it fair to bend the rules and allow athletes an opportunity to run an extra year, or should the loophole be closed? Feel free to light up the comments, or just quietly confront the common differences between your head and your heart as you try and determine where you actually stand. Personally, my mind's tellin' me no, but my body, my body is tellin' me yes.
For those of you who would rather read a much more formal account of rules 14.2.1 and 184.108.40.206, here's a link courtesy of TrackBoundUSA.