NCAA Sports

N.C.A.A. Allows Extra Year of Eligibility for Athletes in Curtailed Spring Sports

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The decision did not cover winter sports, like basketball and gymnastics, which had postseason events disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak.

North Carolina A&T’s Desttany Parker in a softball game against Cleveland State on March 6, six days before all N.C.A.A. sports were shut down.North Carolina A&T’s Desttany Parker in a softball game against Cleveland State on March 6, six days before all N.C.A.A. sports were shut down.Credit…Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated PressBilly Witz

  • March 30, 2020

The N.C.A.A. Division I Council voted on Monday to open the door to another year of eligibility for all spring-sport athletes, whose seasons were cut short by the coronavirus outbreak.

But whether an athlete is able to return will largely depend on the decisions by universities, which will determine how much scholarship aid to offer and whether to apply for an individual to receive an N.C.A.A. waiver allowing an additional season.

For example, a college could allow an athlete’s eligibility to be restored on the condition that the athlete pay some or all of the cost of attendance.

The additional season applies to sports like baseball, softball, golf, tennis, lacrosse, track and field, beach volleyball and rowing. Those sports were shut down on March 12, the same day the N.C.A.A. ended postseason tournaments in winter sports — like men’s and women’s basketball, wrestling and gymnastics. The winter athletes will not be allowed to claim extra eligibility.

Scholarship restrictions will be eased to permit schools to cover returning seniors while accommodating incoming freshmen and transfers. Baseball rosters, for instance, are restricted to 35 players, but any senior who returns will not be counted against that limit.

“It’s a good day for college baseball, big picture,” said Edwin Thompson, the baseball coach at Eastern Kentucky University. “The logistics, we’ll figure it out. The important thing is at least the kids have an opportunity — that’s all you can ask in life. What they do with it is on them.”

The plan approved by the 40-person council was partly influenced by financial pressures that athletic departments could be facing, particularly if football is affected by the coronavirus this fall. The council is composed largely of athletic directors and conference commissioners, but it also includes several student-athletes and academics.

A sign of the financial squeeze on athletic departments surfaced last week when the N.C.A.A. announced that men’s basketball tournament revenues that are distributed to conferences would be reduced by nearly two-thirds, to $225 million.

Rather than laying out detailed rules on how universities should proceed in bringing back senior athletes, the council left the decision to the conferences and their colleges. Some universities will find it harder than others to pick up additional scholarship costs for returning seniors.

“In our world, those are dollars we don’t have,” said Andy Fee, the athletic director at Long Beach State, warning that some colleges might drop certain sports. “I caution people that think they’re going to put Humpty Dumpty back together again that there are heavy conversations down the road. I think it’s going to be happening across the country.”

One conference in which athletes might not benefit is the Ivy League, which does not allow graduate students to play sports and has stringent requirements for granting redshirt years. The league said in a statement that it supported the N.C.A.A.’s proposal and that it was “considering the implications of the decision.”

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At least one of the league’s senior athletes has already decided not to pursue an extra year. Molly Milligan, a rower at Princeton, plans to be a graduate assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin, where she will begin work on a master’s degree this fall.

“I thought about it for a hot second,” Milligan said of returning. “But the trauma of the past two weeks was really challenging to deal with. It’s hard now going back to change that mind-set to, ‘Oh, I might be able to compete.’”

For others, the calculation may be strictly financial.

Unlike many of their counterparts in football and basketball, spring athletes tend not to receive full scholarships. Baseball teams, for example, each have 11.7 scholarships that coaches can distribute among as many as 27 players, excluding walk-on roster spots. Softball has 12 scholarships to divide among a maximum of 25 players. Men’s volleyball has four and a half scholarships.

“There’s going to be some tough discussions,” Fee said. “A coach is going to say, ‘I appreciate what you did, but we don’t have a scholarship for you.’”

The toughest conversations, though, may be with incoming freshmen. They will suddenly be joining rosters more crowded than expected, delaying their chances to take over positions.

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