We’re in unprecedented times. Far beyond the cancelling of the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament, just about everything is cancelled, closed or postponed at this point. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. That’s what the NCAA took Monday when they announced the decision to grant an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes impacted by the cancellation of all or most of their 2020 season.
We’ve not seen action like this before. It does come with a few qualifiers that are notable. While all athletes, not just seniors, will get an extra year of eligibility, it will be left to the individual schools to determine the level of aid to provide. While football and basketball players receive full scholarships for 4-5 years, most non-revenue sport athletes only receive partial scholarships. With the added year, schools are not being forced to extend those scholarships, but may do so at the existing or a lower rate.
Schools and coaches are also receiving flexibility with regard to their scholarship limits for baseball. No limits currently exist for other spring sports, but baseball programs are currently limited to 11.7 scholarships which can be spread amongst 27 athletes. Details have not yet been released on just how much leeway programs will receive on the number of scholarship players they can roster and for how long.
With the added scholarships will come added costs. The NCAA is also providing assistance to schools to help cover those added costs. Programs will have access the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21.
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.
The notable exception to all the unprecedented measures implemented by the NCAA this week was anything for winter athletes. Due to winter sports completing their regular seasons and only missing out on some postseason play, the NCAA has foregone providing any relief for those athletes. While understandable given some programs, such as Iowa State basketball, has already completed both their regular season and any postseason play they would have been eligible for, it does leave plenty of room for frustration from programs who hadn’t yet competed in conference or national tournaments.
That includes the likes of Iowa wrestling and both men’s and women’s basketball. Lisa Bluder’s team had a chance to compete in the Big Ten Tournament, but departing seniors won’t have another chance in the NCAA Tournament. The same can be said for Tom Brands’ wrestlers. Iowa was in its best position in a decade to bring home a national team title, but won’t get that chance. Wrestlers such as Spencer Lee won’t have a chance at history as Lee was likely to become just the fifth wrestler to ever win four straight NCAA titles. And the men’s basketball won’t be making back-to-back Tournament appearances or even have a shot at their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2006. Bakari Evelyn will graduate having never played an NCAA Tournament game.
There have been rumblings of a potential appeal on the winter sports ruling. Proposals have been floated that would allow athletes with a redshirt year available to use it on this season. As with the added steps taken with spring sports, doing such a thing for winter sports would necessitate a number of other changes. It wouldn’t help someone like Evelyn live out their dreams, but it might allow an athlete like Spencer Lee to make history. Only time will tell if there’s any fire with this small amount of smoke. We’ve already seen much crazier things.