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Thomas Tyner’s Medical Retirement Situation Explained

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Clarifying NCAA rules on Medical Retirements and how they impacted Oregon State & Oregon

Stanford v Oregon Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Yesterday Thomas Tyner rocked the state of Oregon when his college football comeback was announced. To make matters more interesting, it was announced that he will be suiting up for the Oregon State Beavers... NOT the Oregon Ducks, who he started his collegiate career with. The news (first reported by John Canzano) shocked fans on both sides of the Beaver/Duck rivalry and aroused some interesting questions. Many of them regarding the NCAA rules on “Medical Retirements” which can be complicated and are often not discussed.

First off, a “Medical Retirement” is very different than a “Medical Redshirt”. A Medical Redshirt is actually not a term recognized by the NCAA, they refer to it as a Medical Hardship Waiver or Medical Extension Waiver and can allow an athlete an extra year of eligibility due to an unfortunate injury.

A Medical Retirement on the other hand, is more commonly known as a Medical Exemption, Medical Disqualification or Medical Non-Counter. Which was the situation Thomas Tyner found himself in after a brutal shoulder injury pushed him away from football. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to a Medical Retirement as a Medical Exemption in this article.

A Medical Exemption is less common than a Medical Redshirt. This option allows those who suffer severe injuries and can no longer participate in collegiate athletics an opportunity to still have their education paid for. This allows the schools athletic director the option to continue paying for an injured athletes scholarship or providing them with financial aid. This is a huge protection plan for athletes who get injured. They can still receive the same amount of financial aid, despite suffering a incapacitating injury. A Medical Exemption is also beneficial for college programs, as they do not count towards their total scholarship limit. In Tyner’s case, it allowed him to continue to pursue his education while Oregon was free to sign another student-athlete in his place.

In John Canzano’s story he writes:

The NCAA prohibits a medical retiree from returning to play at that same university. He couldn't play at Oregon. It's not an option. So really this isn't about a player picking the Beavers over the Ducks.

At first glance that seems like a silly NCAA rule. Why would the NCAA prohibit a medically retired player from returning to athletics if their circumstances changed? What’s the point of forcing them to pursue athletics at a different school?

After some digging, it turns out that Canzano’s statement isn’t entirely true (or that he’s oversimplifying the situation). From the NCAA Division I Manual:

Of particular note from above: “If circumstances change and the student-athlete subsequently practices or competes at the institution at which the incapacitating injury or illness occurred, the student-athlete again shall become a counter, and the institution shall be required to count that financial aid under the limitations of this bylaw in the sport in question during each academic year in which the financial aid was received.

Thomas Tyner, under NCAA rules would be allowed to return to Oregon but he would count towards their scholarship total for the years he sat out and received financial aid. Oregon, like most Division-I programs, utilized all of their remaining football scholarships after he announced his retirement and can’t afford to let him play his last season of eligibility at Oregon, because they already gave his scholarship away.

Thomas Tyner’s situation is very unique and different than say Utah’s Joe Williams this past season. Joe Williams played running back for the Utes last season and after their second game, decided to retire from football. Williams did not suffer an incapacitating injury, but was rather emotionally and physically drained. The senior did not apply for a Medical Exemption or a Medical Redshirt and would still have been on scholarship for the remainder of the year regardless of what happened. Williams, of course, was allowed to return to the team 5 weeks later. He finished his senior season in dramatic fashion and was even drafted in the 4th-round of the NFL draft. This example debunks the myth that medical retiree’s are prohibited from returning to play for their original university’s.

The timing of Thomas Tyner’s announcement is particularly interesting. According to Canzano, he hasn’t talked with Oregon State’s head coach Gary Andersen yet, but has stated that Oregon State is the only program he’s interested in playing for. Tyner is even willing to walk-on to the football team, if no scholarship is available. The announcement wasn’t made public until he was officially granted his full-release from the University of Oregon Friday morning. Technically speaking, Oregon could have restricted his release but fortunately for Beaver fans, Thomas Tyner will be suiting up for Oregon State this upcoming season.

It remains to be seen just how effective Thomas Tyner can be on the field after taking two full football seasons off. His health, fitness-level and ability to learn the scheme are huge question marks at this point. But as Andrew Nemec pointed out, when Thomas Tyner finally suits up for the Beavers he will become the highest-rated recruit ever to play for the Beavers. In 2013, Tyner was ranked the 17th-best prospect in the nation and will surpass other highly-ranked Oregon State players like: Derek Andersen (#44), Isaac Seumalo (#52) and Stephen Jackson (#76).