NCAA D-1 Council Gives Spring Athletes An Extra Year of Eligibility

Matthew Stevens

Division I spring athletes are getting their year of eligibility restored.

The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to allow schools to provide spring-sport athletes an eligibility extension of an additional season of competition.

However, it will be determined by each Division I program if they’ll elect to provide the seniors on 2020 spring teams, who had their final year of eligibility cut short due to season cancellations over the COVID-19 worldwide health epidemic, with the same or any scholarship aid for the upcoming 2021 season.

“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.”

When asked on March 13 about the financial implications of the COVID-19 cancellations to the University of Illinois athletics department, athletics director Josh Whitman gave a honest answer that he couldn’t rightfully speculate on the magnitude COVID-19 will impact his budget for the 2020-21 athletics calendar.

“We don't know yet,” Whitman said in his last media conference before an in-home mandate was requested by Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker. “I think I talked about prioritizing questions. We know that's a big question that we know will need to be answered, but it's not one that we've been able to dive deeply into yet. Certainly, there will be financial implications of these decisions, but in terms of the magnitude and scale, I don't have a good sense yet.”

According to the media release sent out by the NCAA, all Division I schools 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.

The Council also will allow schools to self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes. In layman's terms, a freshman during this 2020 spring season will once again be a freshman competitor in 2021 as well.

“We’ve just started to think through some of those situations,” Whitman said on March 13. “It’s not as straightforward as it may seem. I fully expect there would be a lot of amendments, waivers stemming from these events. I certainly think the opportunity to come back in a lot ways are a no brainer for student-athletes that want to take advantage of that opportunity.”

The only spring sport with a mandated roster limit is baseball but that 35-player roster limit will not be in full effect for the 2021 season. Division I college baseball rosters will still be under the 35-player, 27-scholarship player and 11.7 scholarship limit for all players who weren’t seniors in the 2020 campaign that was cut short. The 2020 seniors who elect to return can be placed on the roster as essentially a freebie individual who won’t count against the 35/27/11.7 policy.

Illinois baseball coach Dan Hartleb, who ranks among the winningest coaches in school history with 446 victories and has led the Illini to its best recent run in program history with four NCAA Regional trips in the last nine seasons (2011, 2013, 2015, 2019), suggested in his March 17 media teleconference that he expected a decision similar to what was enacted Monday by the NCAA’s Division I Council.

“The initial thought process is seniors and basically every spring sport athlete will granted another year of eligibility,” Hartleb said on March 17. “Now, that has great implications from a financial standpoint for each and every school. That has roster size things that will need to be considered. How it would affect baseball is if everybody is granted another year of eligibility than it will be a five-year window period to get everything back in order from a scholarship and roster standpoint.”

Winter sports were not included in the NCAA’s decision Monday as the Division I Council declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

There is a lot of talk about spring athletes receiving additional eligibility in light of this shortened season. Most everyone is looking at the current college athlete and feeling that they should receiv additional year to play. I totally disagree.
These student athletes have already had 4 and in some cases 5 years of eligibility. If a student had a red shirt earlier and then played 4 years they would be done. Now the NCAA is giving them a 6th year of eligibility. I would think the purpose of the scholarship is to help pay for a college degree. If they don't have it in 5 years that is their fault.
Now for the part no one is talking about. What happens to the high school athlete who has verbally commited to a college but was not set to sign their letter of intent until this fall. The high school senior will be covered since the NCAA is increasing the number of scholarships for this one year. If you are a high school junior you are in trouble. Your college coach has promised you a scholarship which would be freed up by the current college junior who should be graduating. Now if that college junior decides to play another year there is no money for the high school student. This holds true for high school sophomores and freshmen alike. If the college player stays, there is no room for an entire class of high school students.
I say good bye to the college player who has already received their scholarship money. Make room for the incoming high school players.

Olympic Sports