Concerns over NCAA Extending Eligibility for Athletes in Spring Sports

The sports world has come to almost a complete standstill due to COVID-19. End of year tournaments for college winter sports were canceled, pro sports leagues suspended their seasons, and spring seasons for college sports were brought  to a halt just as they were starting.

These cancelations and suspensions have left teams and fans baffled, with many questions about what will happen next. But for the NCAA, one issue quickly became a constant talking point: what would it do with senior spring-sport athletes who lost their final year of eligibility? With their season over and their collegiate careers seemingly at  an end, everyone sat waiting for a response from the NCAA.

On Monday, March 30, the Division I Council voted to “allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.”

NCAA rules state that a player can compete four years within a five-year span. This new ruling will allow players another year of play by restoring one of their seasons due to the shortened season this year.

There were some concerns regarding this, specifically about how teams will handle their rosters with incoming recruits and financial aid to the returning athletes. 

Teams only have a certain number of scholarships to provide, which means keeping seniors an extra season will interfere with the team’s ability to recruit new scholarship athletes. As of publication, it is unclear what the NCAA plans to do to solve this issue.

As far as winter sports go, there will be no extra eligibility provided.

The NCAA, which normally distributes some of its revenue from tournaments to schools, announced it will be distributing 62.5% less in revenue due to the men’s national basketball tournament being canceled.

The national tournament, or “March Madness,” is the largest source of income for the NCAA, earning it $867.5 million during the 2018-19 fiscal year. That number is based on television and marketing rights alone, according to MSN money.

Despite the importance of this tournament, the extra year will not be granted to basketball players due to it being considered a winter sport.

In their announcement the NCAA also stated that schools have “the flexibility to give students the opportunity to return for 2020-21 without requiring that athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20.”

This means that schools now have the option of either lowering or not providing financial aid at all to student-athletes for their added season. That change in financial aid is not required, however, with the rule added to help schools when balancing their budget for the next year.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Council Chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Penn, said in an article by the NCAA. “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.”

Schools are not required to grant this extra year to their athletes. Ivy League schools did not approve of granting their student-athletes with another year of eligibility.

The NCAA is doing what they can to provide a solution to some of the issues that came as a result of COVID-19. This effort is an attempt to give the student-athletes back some of what was taken from them in wake of the pandemic.

Jared Dean is a sports reporter for the Liberty Champion.

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