But it seems Alabama was just a little ahead of its time. This year the grayshirts–players who will be entering Alabama as fulltime students in January–will be able to participate in practices in Tuscaloosa, and under circumstances may be able to participate further.
Chris King is Alabama's associate athletics director in charge of compliance. King is understandably conservative when construing NCAA by-laws, and that attitude probably cost quarterback John Parker Wilson, defensive back Lionel Mitchell, and offensive lineman Drew Davis practice time in Nashville as the Tide prepared for the Music City Bowl.
This year it appears that NCAA rules are in line with what Alabama did last year. Although it is somewhat bureaucratic gobbledygook, King put together the following for us:
As the end of the regular season in football is fast upon us, it is prudent to examine the permissible expenses for mid-year enrollees between semesters in the sport of football - due to the changes that have resulted because of the adoption of proposal 2004-30 and the incorporation of Bylaw 126.96.36.199 into the manual. Bylaw 188.8.131.52, which was effective August 1, 2005, states that "in Division I-A football, an institution may not provide expenses (e.g., travel, room and board, entertainment, incidental expenses, etc.) to a student-athlete who is a midyear enrollee (freshman or transfer) for participation in a postseason bowl game that occurs before or during the student-athlete's initial term of full-time enrollment at the institution." The rationale for the adoption of this rule was that it had become increasingly common for institutions to provide expenses for midyear enrollees to attend and practice at postseason bowl game sites. Furthermore, the NCAA membership recognized that this practice had evolved into a potential recruiting advantage and was perhaps inhibiting the ability of student-athletes who had practiced with the team throughout the year from receiving expenses to attend a bowl game.
Even with the adoption of this legislation, it is still possible for mid-year enrollees to practice with the team on campus after the fall semester has ended and prior to the team leaving for the bowl if an individual meets the criteria stipulated in Bylaw 184.108.40.206.1: "the student has been accepted by the institution for enrollment in a regular, full-time program of studies at the time of the individual's initial participation; is no longer enrolled in the previous educational institution; and is eligible under all institutional and NCAA requirements". So obviously the incoming student must be eligible under the eligibility standards set forth in NCAA Bylaw 14.3 (for an entering freshman) or 14.5 (for a transfer student-athlete) in order to practice with the team in between semesters.
One other common question is can mid-enrollees receive a bowl award? It is generally not permissible for an individual who is not a member of the team to receive any postseason award. However, if a mid-year enrollee is practicing with the team prior to the bowl, and is technically eligible to play in the bowl contest itself, then a mid-year enrollee could receive a bowl award. Note that it would be impossible for junior college student-athletes who have competed in football during the same academic year as the bowl to be eligible for a postseason award, because Bylaw 220.127.116.11.7 states that a two year college transfer could not be eligible for competition if that individual has competed at a junior college in the same sport during the same academic year.
It would be permissible for an incoming freshman who will be initial enrollees at mid-year to receive a bowl award if the individual meets the provisions of NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168.1.2 and has practiced in between semesters with the team on campus. The requirements of the bylaw for an incoming student are that the individual must have been "accepted for enrollment as a regular full-time student for the regular term immediately following if the student is either continuing enrollment or beginning enrollment." Of course although being accepted for enrollment means that the student could receive an award, the provision of expenses for travel to the bowl would still be impermissible as discussed above because of the adoption of Bylaw 22.214.171.124.