Extra Eligibility: More Questions Than Answers

Will athletes that play spring sports at Clemson get an additional year of eligibility due to their season being cut short because of Covid-19? A few weeks back the NCAA said yes. Turns out, them granting that additional year of eligibility to athletes doesn’t seem as easy as it did then.

This comes now that the NCAA is stating that they are having to lower the revenue amounts to schools. This is one of the reasons that could put a screeching halt to the original idea.
Shortly after the spring NCAA championships were canceled, the NCAA put out a statement backing the move to award another year of eligibility to athletes in spring sports, though its not set in stone just yet.

An NCAA council is set to vote on the matter on Monday, though it’s being suggested that vote could be moved back now. The NCAA is reportedly giving out approximately $275 million to its member schools. This is around two thirds less than a standard year with an entire slate of spring sports, which includes the NCAA basketball tournament and CWS.

With spring sports being non revenue producing for most schools, the decision becomes that much harder. This would mean any unexpected shortfall could have a dire effect on athletic budgets. Especially since most spring sports are “equivalency sports,” which means those athletes only receive partial scholarships.

In dealing with an additional year of eligibility would mean that athletic departments would have to write a check for that additional partial scholarship. The athletes themselves would be paying for the remainder. That would be the only thing benefiting to the universities because they would be getting both of those checks.

This puts spring athletes whose careers might be over right in the middle of this dilemma. In baseball, that means seasons that were less than one-half complete might be lost.

A few weeks back, when the statement was made, many interpreted the statement as formally granting an additional year of eligibility for athletes in baseball, golf, men’s volleyball, lacrosse, rowing, softball, tennis, track and water polo.

It was also interpreted as a common sense resolution by the sometimes (often) slow moving and archaic NCAA. The Council has to formally adopt the measure as an adjustment in the waiver process for athletes.

Keep in mind that the original statement was made before the announcement of the shortfall of more than 60 percent in annual NCAA revenue distribution to member schools because of the cancellation though.

Just last week, an article in the USA Today stated that just granting seniors another year of eligibility would cost Power Five public institutions between $500,000 and $900,000. Now the question of where those funds will come from has to be looked at. Essentially, administrators, are now coming to grips financially with doing the right thing.
Though, there is already widespread agreement among major university administrators that winter sports (including basketball) will not get that extra year. For athletes, particularly seniors, in spring sports whose careers would otherwise be over, the situation seems to be looked at by some as the age old quote says…..“It’s not fair, but sometimes life’s not fair”.

Some other questions that have been raised after the original statement are, does awarding athletes an extra year of eligibility affect the normal student? Do students on academic/music scholarships deserve an additional year? If not, then what are the possible legal liabilities of that?

Whatever is done now could have huge implications in the fall also. Especially if football is impacted. Could you imagine the eligibility concerns of 13,000 FBS football players if the seasons are canceled due to this virus? That would be a monumental undertaking in comparison to this current discussion.

You also have to wonder about expanding rosters? If all spring athletes are allowed an extra year, then some allowance may have to be looked at for roster limits if all the seniors return. For example, Division I baseball distributes 11.7 scholarships among a limit of 35 players. How will that limit be affected by returning seniors and an entire recruiting class?

Then you have Title IX considerations. What if most of a university’s male athletes return and only a few of the female athletes come back. This could cause an imbalance in opportunities. For those that don’t know, the Title IX statute is the almost 50 year old policy that prohibits federally funded institutions from discriminating against employees or students based on gender.

Another factor causing complications in this unprecedented situation is that the NCAA Council’s action would not be adoption of formal legislation. As discussed, it would be a tweak to the current waiver process for athletes seeking an extra year. The council could grant a blanket waiver for those spring athletes….or something in between.

Normally, the Council’s actions are final on such issues. However, they could inject itself in the process, especially one that is this high profile and the unique circumstances surrounding the issue. We are definitely all traveling in uncharted waters right now and that goes for the NCAA as well. No matter what they decide a number of athletes will be affected one way or another.

2 thoughts on “Extra Eligibility: More Questions Than Answers

  1. I can understand the uncertainty in this, but let’s look at some other concepts. 1). athletes on scholarships are payed by the school boosters not the NCAA. 2). I don’t think every senior athlete is going to take the NCAA up on that offer, some might but I don’t think all will. I guess it would depend on how well the season was going, how their professional life and home life are going, etc. I do understand though the concern, new students may have to pay some out of pocket for tuition and what not, but overall, this extra year of eligibility does more good than harm.

Leave a Reply