NCAA awards extra year to spring student-athletes

The concerns over COVID-19 essentially wiped out the entire spring sports season.
The USF softball team, led by interim coach Jess Moore (center), was 16-9 when its season was halted by mounting concerns over the coronavirus.
The USF softball team, led by interim coach Jess Moore (center), was 16-9 when its season was halted by mounting concerns over the coronavirus. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published March 30, 2020|Updated March 30, 2020

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The NCAA awarded a mulligan of sorts Monday night with a ruling sure to resonate across bunkers, baselines and batting cages nationwide.

The Division I Council voted to award an extra year of eligibility to student-athletes in spring sports whose seasons were wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic.

The catch: Just how much financial aid is offered for each returning student-athlete is at the discretion of the individual schools. That flexibility applies only to those student-athletes whose eligibility would have been exhausted in the 2019-20 season.

The council also adjusted financial aid rules to permit teams to carry more athletes on scholarship to account for seniors who choose to remain another season.

Winter sports were not included in the decision. March Madness was wiped out by the current pandemic.

“The council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Penn, said in a statement released 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.”

Locally, the decision was applauded. “In my opinion, it is the right thing to do for those spring sport student-athletes who desire another opportunity to compete,” USF athletic director Michael Kelly said.

“Our coaches and staff will now begin to drill down into the specifics of how this will be implemented at USF.”

A recent USA Today analysis indicated that giving another year of eligibility to seniors on spring sports teams alone would cost Power Five conferences between $500,000 and $900,000. Though non-Power Five schools would have lower amounts, they also generate considerably less revenue and have less lucrative media-rights deals.

Monday’s ruling comes 2½ weeks after the Division I Council Committee publicly indicated it’s “appropriate” for student-athletes in spring sports to receive eligibility relief due to COVID-19.

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