Spring Sports Athletes May Officially Receive Additional Year of Eligibility Following NCAA Division I Board Vote

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The NCAA Division I board has voted to grant all athletes who compete in a spring sport an additional year of eligibility, it announced Monday. The novel coronavirus outbreak has cut this season short for thousands of athletes who play spring sports like baseball, softball and lacrosse.

The scholarship rules will be adjusted to allow more athletes to receive financial aid, which is needed because the programs have already offered scholarships to incoming freshmen. For athletes returning for the 2020-2021 school year, their scholarship amount is not required to be the same as the athlete received in 2019-2020. This flexibility only applies to athletes who were seniors this season.

“The Board’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make campus-level decisions,” said Grace Calhoun, Division I Board Chair and University of Pennsylvania Athletic Director, in a statement. “The Board of Governors has encouraged conferences and schools to act in the best interests of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do so.”

The council’s decision does not include winter sports, such as basketball, gymnastics and swimming. The board “has declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or a significant portion of their regular seasons have ended,” the NCAA press release reads.

The NCAA canceled its winter and spring championships on March 12, but an NCAA committee announced a day later that its leaders “agree that the eligibility relief is appropriate for all student-athletes in Division I who participated in spring sports,” details to be finalized. later. Athletic directors clarified that this public stance of the eight-member Division I Council Coordinating Committee does not guarantee a formal decision in favor of extended eligibility.

Waiver of eligibility for athletes whose seasons have been cut short seems like a reasonable solution, especially since many spring teams were just starting their schedules. But the logistics of getting there are complex and will have lasting ramifications. The financial impact of inflated rosters and additional scholarships on sports programs will be significant.

The NCAA’s 40-member Division I Council — which includes athletic directors, conference commissioners, other high-level administrators, athletic faculty representatives and athletes — discussed these issues. Monday and decided to offer extended eligibility.

A USA Today analysis found that providing eligibility relief to seniors on spring sports teams would cost public schools in “Power Five” conferences between $500,000 and $900,000 each. Schools will decide if they can fund additional athletes on their teams and support them with scholarships.

Another complicating factor for schools is that athletic departments will receive $375 million less than expected this year from the NCAA, which derives most of its revenue from its men’s basketball tournament. The NCAA announced last week that the Division I revenue split for 2020 was previously projected to be around $600 million, but schools will instead receive a cut of a pool of $225 million.

Schools can use the NCAA Student Assistance Fund, which exists to help Division I athletes with special financial needs, to pay for scholarships for athletes who use their additional eligibility in the 2020 school year. -21, according to the NCAA statement.

Leaders of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee from “Power Five” schools across the country issued a joint statement ahead of the Division I council vote. They presented three recommendations to the council: immediate support for housing and food, eligibility relief for all winter and spring sports athletes whose schedules have been affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and scholarship renewals for returning seniors who would not be considered within scholarship limits.

“We recognize that eligibility relief presents extreme challenges for universities and the NCAA,” the statement said. “Our job is to stand up for what we believe is fair and just for the athletes. COVID-19 has severely affected all college athletes.”

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Most spring sports are equivalency sports, which means that a specified number of scholarships can be divided among athletes in a program, who often receive partial support so that more athletes can receive funding .

The NCAA imposes purse limits for each sport, while individual institutions generally set the cap for each team’s roster size. In baseball, the NCAA caps rosters at 35 players, but Monday’s announcement said the board had increased that limit.

Those rules will temporarily change to accommodate athletes who wish to take advantage of the extended eligibility, but the NCAA press release did not elaborate on further details.

An athlete who was a freshman in the 2020 season and plays the sport for the next four seasons will not exhaust her eligibility until 2024, so the repercussions of this waiver will last for the next few years.

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