NCAA rules to give another year of eligibility to seniors

While having seniors get another year of eligibility is a good thing for college athletes, it does come with some issues

There has been a lot of talk about what to do with seniors who had their final season of athletics at the college level cut short due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. As of March 30, the NCAA Division I Council voted to extend another year of eligibility to the seniors of spring sports.

This is a big win for fans of college sports, but it means the most to those seniors who couldn’t play this year. In NCAA Division I, a lot of seniors are looking to play professionally, and having their senior year cut short hurts their chances. The extra year of eligibility will allow those seniors to have another chance to “prove their worth” to professional scouts.

The NCAA’s decision has been widely applauded, but it isn’t an easy thing to implement. There are a lot of issues that go along with giving an extra year of eligibility to seniors.

The first big decision the NCAA had to make is who to include and who to exclude. March Madness was cancelled; should the basketball players get another year? They got to play most of their season, but March Madness can make someone go from potentially getting unpicked in the draft to easily making a team.

The decision was made that only spring sport seniors get to continue for another year. Baseball, softball, lacrosse, track and any other spring sport seniors get to continue. Seniors in sports like basketball and swim will not be able to return, and they will see their seniors graduate.

Another issue this decision has presented is financials. Seniors who elect to stay another year might not be able to pick up an extra year on their scholarship. According to an interview ESPN conducted with Maryland Men’s Lacrosse coach John Tillman, “I’m not sure that every family has budgeted for five years of lacrosse. We only have 12.6 scholarships that we divide up amongst our players, so it’s very rare that someone is going to school for free. There’s some families that are going to have to make some decisions. There’s a lot more to it.”

Tillman’s point reigns true for a lot of individuals coming back for a fifth year of collegiate sports. Scholarships may not be given to seniors returning for a fifth year as schools may need to tender the money to incoming freshmen. To try and combat this issue, the NCAA Division I Council had to come up with an aid plan.

The Council made the decision to allow schools to give extra money on scholarships by adjusting financial aid, according to the NCAA website. “Members also adjusted financial aid rules to allow teams to carry more members on scholarship to account for incoming recruits and student-athletes who had been in their last year of eligibility who decide to stay. In a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education, the Council vote also provided schools with 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 flexibility applies only to student-athletes who would have exhausted eligibility in 2019-20.”

Based on the NCAA aid plan, the schools themselves decide what to do to help seniors who may want a fifth year. The events of the COVID-19 Pandemic have severely cut funding planned to be distributed by the NCAA to Division I schools. ESPN reported that the money to be distributed to Division I schools will be about $225 million — less than half of the $600 million planned to be distributed.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said in an interview with ESPN “The next 12 months are going to be extremely hard on a lot of colleges and universities, especially small colleges that aren’t going to have tuition revenue; they’re going to have high costs because they sent their students away, but they still have all of their costs.” 

The costs Emmert refers to could vary heavily between each university. Another huge issue facing Division I schools is the revenue being brought to them through sponsorships and advertising for spring sports has been cut drastically this year. Emmert goes on to explain how the revenue stream has effectively been cut off.

“They’re not going to have any revenue from their endowments because of the crash of the stock market. The revenue from the tournaments isn’t going to be there, and the revenue from us is unlikely to be as big as it has been in the past.” Emmert goes on to explain how the statement by the NCAA could be viewed as damaging to a school’s revenue, “To turn around and say, ‘By the way, we’re going to increase the cost of your student-athletics program,’ that’s a challenge. For the big schools that are the high-revenue institutions, that’s a whole different deal. You have to remember that college sports is, of course, something 1,100 different schools do, and the business models for all of them are very different.”

Emmert details the big problem with extending another year to these seniors; how do we support them if the money isn’t there? Effectively adding another class to all spring sports is going to put financial strain on athletics departments. This shouldn’t be an issue for big schools with large budgets, but what about the smaller schools? Will their seniors get to come back for a fifth year, or will it be too much for the athletics department to handle?

These questions will need to be answered quickly so seniors can plan their next year. With everything going on currently, that will be easier said than done. Seniors all over the country are at home as their universities have shut down, and now they will need to make a big decision regarding their future. Athletics departments will hopefully be making this process as easy as possible for the seniors affected.

By this time next year, we will be seeing athletes get a second chance at their senior year for spring sports. This situation has raised many problems for the world of sports; hopefully this will be a reprieve to some of the issues faced by the NCAA and college athletes.

For more information on the vote and rulings to see how college sports are changing, go to NCAA.com.

*Information compiled from ESPN.com and NCAA.com*

~Michael Innacelli, Sports Editor and CNUTV Managing Editor~

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