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

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