Mar 31, 2020 - Sports

Coronavirus grants NCAA spring athletes an extra season of eligibility

Illustration of an illuminated red shirt
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to grant an extra season of eligibility to all spring-sport athletes whose seasons were canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Between the lines: The council left it up to each university to determine how much scholarship aid to offer athletes who were in what would have been their final season of eligibility.

  • Given the financial stress that schools are already under, some athletic departments will have a hard time affording those costs.
  • This means a returning senior could technically have a spot on the team, but as little as $0 in athletic scholarship money.

Sports impacted: Baseball, lacrosse, golf, softball, rowing, tennis, outdoor track and field, women's water polo, men's volleyball and beach volleyball.

  • Sports not impacted: Winter sports like basketball and hockey, which had their postseasons interrupted but were able to complete all or much of their regular seasons.

What to watch:

  • Schools will be permitted to exceed scholarship limits to cover returning seniors while accommodating incoming freshmen and transfers, who will be joining rosters that are suddenly more crowded than expected.
  • The Ivy League, which does not typically allow for fifth-year athletes and has strict requirements for granting redshirts, said in a statement that it supported the NCAA's proposal and is "considering the implications."
  • While some baseball seniors will still enter the MLB draft rather than return to school to play for free, MLB's decision to shorten this year's draft from 40 rounds to as few as five means plenty of pro-ready seniors could come back.

The big picture: For seniors who graduate this spring, my understanding is that they'll have three options if they choose to continue playing sports: enroll in another undergraduate program, begin graduate school, or transfer — assuming the extra year can be used at another member institution.

  • So, while seniors now have the right to extend their college athletic careers, it will be interesting to see how many actually choose to do so.
  • Four of the five seniors I spoke with yesterday already have jobs lined up and won't be returning to campus. The fifth said she's considering it "because I love my teammates and we have a chance to win a national title next year."

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