In a brief hearing in Hampton, Ellis entered an Alford plea, meaning he doesn't admit guilt but acknowledges prosecutors could prove the case against him.
Ellis was sentenced to 179 days in jail, with 89 suspended. His attorney, Timothy Clancy, said Ellis likely would serve 45 days when he reports to jail on June 15 and said that he shouldn't miss any of the NFL season.
The victim, former Hampton University student Dennis Eley, appeared in court with his mother, girlfriend and civil attorney, who were visibly upset with the reduced charge and sentencing. They declined to comment following the hearing .
Wearing a gray suit, Ellis said few words other than "Yes ma'am" when asked questions by a circuit judge about whether he understood what he was agreeing to and whether he was OK with it.
Ellis originally faced a felony malicious wounding charge from the fight at Hampton University and faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Attorneys for both sides said the fight between Ellis and Eley revolved around a dispute Eley had with Ellis' girlfriend the night before. Ellis' girlfriend had been Eley's mentor.
Clancy said the plea agreement was a recognition by the Commonwealth Attorney's Office and Ellis that a trial was not in the best interest of either party. He said Ellis was anxious to return to playing football.
But the legal ordeal for Ellis is not over.
Before court, he was served with a $3 million lawsuit on behalf of Eley. Eley's attorney, S. Howard Woodson, said Eley couldn't finish school because of his wounds and moved to Maryland.
Ellis played one season at South Carolina before being dismissed in 2008 for repeated violations of team and university policy. He transferred to Hampton University and played three seasons for the Pirates as a run-stuffing nose tackle.