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NCAA to allow extra year of eligibility for spring athletes

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But no extra year for winter athletes.

Coronavirus Cases Causes Johns Hopkins To Ban Fans At NCAA Division III Basketball Tournament Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

On Monday, the NCAA voted to address eligibility for spring athletes whose seasons were cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic. They also made a final decision on the eligibility of winter sports athletes who had their seasons end prematurely after the NCAA Tournament and other postseason events were canceled.

Coming into the day, the expectation was spring sports — such as baseball, softball and track & field — would receive an extra year of eligibility since the majority of their seasons were wiped out, while winter athletes would not be given an extra year.

That’s what ultimately happened, as the NCAA approved a waiver for all spring athletes to get an extra year of eligibility. In the announcement, the NCAA also said that winter athletes will not be given extra eligibility:

The Division I Council on Monday voted to allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.

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.

Schools also will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21.

Division I rules limit student-athletes to four seasons of competition in a five-year period. The Council’s decision allows schools to self-apply waivers to restore one of those seasons of competition for student-athletes who had competed while eligible in the COVID-19-shortened 2020 spring season

The Council also will allow schools to self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes, effectively extending each student’s five-year “clock” by a year. This decision was especially important for student-athletes who had reached the end of their five-year clock in 2020 and saw their seasons end abruptly.

“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. “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.”

Winter sports were not included in the decision. Council members declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed.

The Council also increased the roster limit in baseball for student-athletes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the only spring sport with such a limit.

For the Kentucky Wildcats, this means players such as baseball first baseman T.J. Collett and softball outfielder Bailey Vick will have one more season of college if they choose to use it.

As for winter sport athletes like men’s basketball forward Nate Sestina and women’s basketball guard Sabrina Haines, their college eligibility remains expired.

It’s good to see the spring athletes won’t lose their final season of college sports, but it’s sad to see many of the winter athletes never got a chance to compete in the postseason.