NCAA Sports

NCAA extends eligibility for athletes in spring sports

NCAA extends eligibility for athletes in spring sports

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Division I schools can grant college athletes in spring sports another year of eligibility to make up for a season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday, the NCAA Division I Council voted on the measure to allow schools to extend eligibility for another season for all spring athletes — not just seniors — but not athletes in winter sports, like basketball, whose seasons were closer to the finish line when the coronavirus shut down the sports world earlier this month.

The Council left some important questions unanswered that schools will have to address on an individual basis when it comes to building rosters and distributing scholarships. The ruling also adjusted financial aid rules to allow teams to carry more athletes on scholarship to account for incoming recruits and seniors who choose to return for another year of eligibility. As part of Monday’s ruling, if seniors decide to return for another season, their schools will not be required to give them the same level of financial aid they received for the 2019-20 academic year.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, the athletics director at Penn. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”

The Division I Council is made up of college sports administrators from all 32 D-I conferences, including St. Louis University athletics director Chris May, four conference commissioners, two faculty athletics representatives and  two current student-athletes. 

At the University of Missouri, Monday’s ruling impacts seven programs: baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s track and field and women’s tennis. The same seven teams will be impacted at St. Louis University, along with men’s tennis. Each team will have the option of granting eligibility relief and allowing seniors to return for another year of competition.

The Council did not discuss athletes in winter sports and declined to extend eligibility for athletes in sports where “all or much” of their regular seasons were completed. That means athletes who had games canceled in the sports of basketball, swimming and wrestling will not receive another year of eligibility. Mizzou’s men’s basketball team was scheduled to play its first game in the SEC tournament on the day the tournament was canceled earlier this month. That means, as widely expected, senior center Reed Nikko won’t receive another year of eligibility, nor will Mizzou’s senior wrestlers, swimmers and gymnasts who were preparing for NCAA postseason events.

For seniors who return for another season of competition and will graduate this spring, it’s unclear by Mondays’ ruling what kind of academic workload they’ll be required to carry during the next school year.

In recent interviews, Mizzou spring coaches generally welcomed the idea of granting eligibility relief for their athletes but were skeptical on how the NCAA would manage the logistics. Financial questions will loom over programs, too.

“I don’t see how you pay for it with every single player,” MU women’s golf coach Stephanie Priesmeyer said. “I think it would be great to do something for the seniors. But a senior could graduate and go in the transfer portal and go somewhere else. I’m not totally on board yet. It could be a logistical nightmare.”

For Missouri and its fellow members of the Southeastern Conference, spring sports seasons were suspended on March 12 through March 30. That same day, the NCAA announced that all winter and spring championship events were cancelled. Then on March 13 the SEC extended the suspension of spring sports seasons through April 15, including all games, practices and team meetings. A few days later, on March 18, the SEC canceled the remainder of all spring seasons.

Also as part of Monday’s ruling, schools will be allowed to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships to pay for athletes who take advantage of the extended eligibility for next year. The NCAA’s news release did not elaborate on how that process will work or how much schools can receive from the fund.

Under the ruling, schools will be able to self-apply waivers to restore one season of eligibility of competition for athletes whose seasons were cut short and a one-year extension for spring athletes whose five-year clock of eligibility would have ended this spring.

The Council also increased the roster limit for baseball teams. Under normal roster limits, baseball teams are allowed to have a maximum of 35 players with no more than 27 receiving athletics aid.

At Mizzou, the softball and women’s golf teams only had one current senior on their 2019-20 rosters. The baseball team has five seniors, including a few who could be taken in this summer’s MLB draft.


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