Can Freshmen Play College Football?

College football is a lifelong dream for so many students, but NCAA has had a past reputation for limiting the eligibility of players based on their age.

Can Freshmen Play College Football?

Yes, freshmen can play college football. The NCAA committee changed its policies on allowing freshmen to play certain sports in 1968 and granted permission to all qualifying freshmen to play football in 1972.

After extensively researching college football history and NCAA policies, I have gathered enough information to determine whether freshmen are allowed to play college football. In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at how freshmen can qualify to play NCAA college football.

Can Freshmen Play College Football?

College football is ingrained in American history. Since 1869, fans and athletes have gathered at college football fields to enjoy the thrill of the most beloved sport in American culture. However, college football has not always been accessible to the entire student body.

Traditionally, students were only allowed to try out for football once they became sophomores in their 2nd year. This was a major blow to ambitious freshmen who desperately wanted to participate in their favorite sports. 

Luckily, the NCAA decided to change its policies on allowing freshmen to play certain college sports in 1968. After several years of debate, the NCAA eventually chose to allow qualified freshmen to participate in all college sports, including football in 1972. 

Why Did the NCAA Allow Freshman to Play College Football?

Before 1972, college freshmen were not allowed to play varsity football. First-year students were limited to junior varsity, which ultimately forced a lot of qualified players to resort to lower-tier leagues.

This lowered the potential growth and skill development of freshmen players that were worthy of playing varsity college football but were rejected due to NCAA guidelines. The decision to change this guideline came after the legendary performances of certain players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton who left a huge impact on the way the NCAA and fans viewed freshmen athletes. 

Although Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton were both basketball players, they played a major role in changing the NCAA’s policies regarding freshmen participation. Both of these players, as well as other high-ranking freshmen athletes, delivered legendary performances that were clearly above the skill level of their league. 

To ensure that all players had an equal shot to demonstrate their skills and potential, the NCAA changed the rules to allow freshmen to play alongside the rest of the student body. Since 1972, qualified freshmen have been given the same treatment as older students in the world of college football.

Can Freshmen Play College Football?

How to Qualify for College Football as a Freshman

Although the NCAA allowed freshmen to participate in varsity college football, that does not mean that qualifying is easy. Division 1 college football is the last test that players have to go through before they can play in the NFL, which implies that the stakes and expectations are very high.

College freshmen will have a harder time getting accepted into varsity than any other age group, mainly due to a lack of experience. With that said, the right skill set and determination have resulted in many incoming freshmen qualifying for Division 1 college football.

Although qualifying for college football as a freshman is not easy, it’s by no means impossible. Keep the following factors in mind to increase your chances of making it to a varsity college team as a first-year freshman student.

Senior Year Season 

If you play football in high school, nothing will determine your odds of getting recruited to a college team more than your senior year. Since 1972, college recruiters have started picking out potential talent early on, with senior year being absolutely vital. 

This is really a time to give it your all. Your senior year should exemplify exactly what you can offer a college team so that recruiters cherry-pick you over the competition. Once your junior year season is over, it’s time to start taking football very seriously if you want to truly make it in this sport.

With that said, your senior year is not a time to be reckless. Pushing yourself to your limits comes with certain risks that you do not want to overlook, namely injury. It can be easy to get carried away with your goals and lose track of the physical dangers of playing football.

Play hard and demonstrate your potential, while keeping your health and safety as a priority.


While your academics are not directly related to your performance in the field, they will influence your chances of getting recruited to a respected college. Recruiters will be assessing your academic performance, as well as your skills in playing football.

Athletes often have a particularly difficult time with this because they are so focused on winning and leveling up their game that they forget to give their grades the attention they deserve. 

If college football is on the horizon, don’t waste your potential by neglecting school. Continue to thrive as an athlete while balancing out your academics at the same time, as this will be a major part of qualifying for a college team as a freshman.


Although the football season ends in February, this does not mean that athletes get to take a break after the last game, especially if college football is on the table.

Recruiters are looking for players that have their eye on the prize all year long. This means that training and conditioning need to be constant and consistent if you want to have a chance of playing college ball as a freshman. Your training for college football should include the following:

  • Strength Training 
  • Speed Training 
  • Skill Training 

Regularly hitting the gym for strength training and actively practicing cardio will be mandatory throughout the year. In addition, continuing to develop your skill as a player will also be essential so that your growth does not stagnate once the primary season is over. 

Key Takeaways

  • Yes, freshmen are allowed to play college football. 
  • The NCAA changed its policies on allowing freshmen to play certain sports in 1968 and granted permission to all qualifying freshmen to play football in 1972.
  • To qualify for college football as a freshman, you need to have an exceptional senior year season, solid grades, and active year-long training.

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