NCAA grants spring athletes extra year of eligibility

All classes, not just seniors, can take advantage of making up a lost season

The NCAA recently announced that all spring athletes, not just seniors, have the opportunity to retain an additional year of eligibility after the cancelation of their seasons. This also increases roster sizes to accommodate new players.

In light of the ever-growing COVID-19 outbreak, the NCAA has granted another year of eligibility to spring sport athletes. 

The affected sports are baseball, softball, tennis, golf, outdoor track and field, lacrosse, rowing, men’s volleyball, beach volleyball and women’s water polo. 

The decision doesn’t just apply to seniors, but all classes as well. Winter sports, basketball included, were not awarded an additional year. 

Of the spring sports, baseball is the only one that has roster limitations, and the NCAA has also granted the ability for baseball programs to expand roster size as a result of the new ruling. 

“You don’t want the complexity of this to get in the way of doing what’s right for the student-athletes. But there are a wide range of complexities to deal with. This comes with unintended consequences, and some of them (have) difficult consequences,” Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione said in an interview with Sports Illustrated.

While the general consensus around the issue tends to suggest the right decision was made for athletes, there are other things to consider. 

Scholarship funding for returning seniors will prove to be yet another wrench thrown in the already chaotic financial limbo universities will find themselves in come the fall. 

Department budgets both on the athletic and academic sides of universities will be cut alongside impending hiring freezes as a result of the outbreak. To pile on the added weight of having to fund a larger pool of athletes, some will find themselves without the money they were counting on to be able to attend their respective institutions.

Ultimately, it will be up to the individual schools if they decide to give athletes the same amount of financial aid (or possibly less) for playing their respective sports in the 2020-21 season. According to the NCAA website, member schools will be able to tap into the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to help defray the cost of the extra scholarships created by would-be-graduated seniors who decide to utilize the extra year of eligibility.

In an anonymous interview conducted by Sports Illustrated of six athletic directors in the Division I ranks, one said, “It was interesting to discover how many of our spring sports coaches were opposed (to the legislation). They hated the subjectivity inherent in this — many schools will likely only invite the contributors back and they think the incoming freshmen are getting screwed by clogging the pipeline in front of them.”

Striking a balance between giving athletes an opportunity to pursue their hopes and dreams in collegiate athletics and maintaining fiscal responsibility amid a faltering economy will be more to handle than most administrators bargained for.

This fall, difficult decisions will have to be made and the seismic impacts of those decisions will follow shortly thereafter.