NCAA grants waiver for all spring-sports athletes to receive extra year of eligibility

All NCAA Division I athletes in spring sports will be given an extra season of eligibility to make up for the one that was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the association announced Monday.

But the decision by the NCAA Division I Council, which handles day-to-day rules making for the association’s top-level schools, will allow those schools to determine how much scholarship aid to give next year to athletes who were in what would have been their final season of eligibility.

That means such an athlete could be offered a place on the team, but $0 in athletic scholarship money. 

NCAA rules normally prohibit schools in the Power Five conferences or any non-Power-Five school that makes a multi-year scholarship offer to reduce the amount of aid an athlete receives from one year to the next for athletic reasons.

However, the Council did agree to adjust scholarship limits to account for incoming athletes and athletes who decide to stay for an extra season. Under that arrangement, schools will be able to exceed existing scholarship limits if they give financial aid to any athlete who would have been in their final season of eligibility this year but chooses to return.

Athletes in winter sports will not get an additional season of eligibility, the Council decided. Winter sports NCAA championships, including the basketball tournaments, were cancelled because of the pandemic. 

OPINION:Devil is in the details with NCAA’s spring-sports eligibility ruling

SPORTS SHUTDOWN:Latest news on sports’ coronavirus shutdown delivered to you. Sign up here

Spring sports athletes in the NCAA lost their 2020 seasons because of the coronavirus.

The Council’s eight-member leadership group signaled its position 2½ weeks ago, when it issued a statement saying that “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I athletes who participated in spring sports.”

On Monday, the full Council faced the prospect of several alternatives: covering athletes in winter and spring sports; covering only athletes who are presently in their senior year; covering athletes in all classes.

The prospect of taking any action to extend athletes’ eligibility would have been difficult under the best economic circumstances. But with athletics department revenues — like those for higher education, as a whole — under present strain and additional threat in the future, it could be very difficult.

That why, In what an NCAA statement termed “a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education,” schools are being given the latitude to determine how much aid current seniors will get if they return next year

Without that latitude, giving an additional season of eligibility just to seniors on spring-sports teams would have left public schools in the Power Five conferences facing a cost of anywhere from $500,000 to $900,000, a recent USA TODAY analysis of schools’ financial reports to the NCAA showed.

Schools outside the Power Five would face lower amounts, but FCS schools that have relatively robust spring sports offerings would have been looking at a cost of around $400,000.

On the revenue side, the NCAA’s governing board of college presidents decided last week that the association’s direct distribution to Division I conferences and schools this year will be $225 million, rather than the planned $600 million. But those amounts constitute roughly 2% to 5% of athletics departments’ operating revenue.

Much bigger problems could come in ticket revenue and donations, matters would get much worse if the football season is affected.

Football drives not only ticket sales but also television contracts, the value of schools’ local multi-media/marketing rights deals; shoe-and-apparel agreements and payments that some customers must pay for the right to lease suites or buy prime tickets. Guarantee-game payments, a feature of many early-season matchups, also could be impacted.

Earlier this week, Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte acknowledged all of those issues, but said the athletes should come first.

“There’s ramifications for everything,” Del Conte said during an interview with Austin radio station KTXX-FM, The Horn. “The economy has dipped, what does that mean? … We know it’s a tough time for everybody.

“So we’ve got to do things to make sure that we do things right by our student-athletes. I’m in favor of either proposal (to cover seniors or athletes in all classes). Doesn’t make a difference to me, as long as our kids have a chance to come back.”

Leave a Reply