The rapid cancelations of spring athletics put student athletes in a tragic spot. NCAA eligibility waivers could be an answer, but how would they work?
The continuously churning sports news cycle got more complicated on Friday when Jeff Goodman tweeted this regarding potential changes to NCAA eligibility processes:
The NCAA’s Council Coordination Committee has agreed to grant relief for the use of a season of competition for student-athletes who have participated in spring sports.
Committee will also discuss issues for winter sport student-athletes.
— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 13, 2020
Goodman was working off a communication that would be published later in the day. His report caught the spirit of what the NCAA would release later that day, but wasn’t completely accurate. The NCAA announced later Friday afternoon that they had “agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate” for athletes competing in spring sports. This would include sports like baseball, softball, track and field, swimming, tennis and others.
Agreeing that something should be done is not the same as a mandate. If the 2021 spring sports calendar were to happen tomorrow, there would be no new eligibility rules in place. Before any of this promise can be enacted, several more questions need to be answered:
1. How are scholarships counted?
Different levels and different sports have different scholarship limitations. In many sports, only a portion of the team can be on full academic scholarships for a given semester. Will scholarship limits be expanded? Who pays for the additional scholarships?
2. Will rosters be expanded?
Beyond scholarship situations, college rosters have limitations on the numbers of players they can have at any one time. If all seniors are granted an additional season, how does a school reconcile the unexpected returning players with a new signee class already committed to enroll in the fall? Do rosters expand? If so, to how many spots and for how long?
3. Who gets the extra eligibility?
Restoring an additional year of eligibility to all parties is going to be a challenging puzzle to solve. Would restoring the year to only seniors be a possibility? What about the MLB Draft? If a player is selected this year and opts not to return to school, does that extra year of eligibility disappear? Could the school allocate it to another player?
4. What about the winter sports?
The spring sports are in their initial weeks, but most school’s basketball seasons were in their final days, some down to a final game. Is it “fair” to restore eligibility to those players who were denied NCAA Tournament berths? I’m sure there would be seniors that would much rather get another shot at March Madness than start working a nine-to-five.
5. What about school?
And that brings us to school. These are student athletes we’re talking about and several players in this sample were graduates already. Would they have to enroll in a master’s program to maintain their additional season of eligibility and if they’ve finished a degree would they have to start another?
We have more questions than answers right now, by a wide margin. The NCAA is routinely dragged through the mud for making comical decisions, but this cause is much more commendable. Executing this recommendation is going to be the hard part. Just like the concerns over the pandemic that forced these questions, things might get more complicated before any answers emerge.
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