NCAA restores year of eligibility for spring sport student-athletes

2020 seniors could be subject to reduced aid packages

Cliff Grassmick/ Staff Photographer
CU track athlete Makena Morley, shown here during a practice in May 2019, could have another year of eligibility for 2021 after the NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to extend scholarships to those that have lost the 2020 season because of the COID-19 pandemic.

Relief has arrived for NCAA student-athletes in spring sports who saw their entire 2020 seasons wiped out by the nationwide lockdowns spurred by the spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

With one significant catch.

On Monday afternoon, the Division I Council voted to approve an extra year of eligibility for all athletes who compete in NCAA spring sports. The new legislation allows for expanded scholarship limits in every spring sport and also expands the roster limits for NCAA baseball, the only spring sport with particular roster limits.

The council did not approve an extra year of eligibility for winter sports, so basketball teams like those at the University of Colorado — with the men’s team having anticipated a date in the NCAA Tournament and the women’s team left hoping for a bid to the WNIT — will not get eligibility relief for mostly-completed seasons that were abruptly halted due to the virus fears.

However, in a nod to the still-unfolding financial fallout from the canceled NCAA basketball tournaments as well as the entire slate of spring sports, athletic departments will have the flexibility to lower the financial aid agreements with student-athletes who would have completed their eligibility in this spring. The Associated Press reported last week that the NCAA expects to distribute $225 million to its member institutions in June — a total that is $375 million below what had been budgeted.

“The council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Penn athletic director and council chair M. Grace Calhoun said in a statement released by the NCAA. “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.”

It remains to be seen how the ruling will affect CU’s spring sports — women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s golf, women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field. Full scholarships are rare in each of those programs, with scholarship allotments typically dispersed across the rosters, and chances are not every player currently on those teams will take advantage of the extra season of eligibility.

However, the ruling will force coaches like CU lacrosse leader Ann Elliott Whidden to make adjustments to the program’s long-term planning on the fly. With recruiting for the 2021 class well underway, there could be scenarios in which an incoming recruit who was hoping to compete immediately for playing time at a particular spot might find added competition from a player who was expected to have graduated already.

The Buffs’ lacrosse team, which was hoping to compete for its fourth consecutive NCAA berth and was off to a 3-2 start before the season was canceled, has eight seniors on the 2020 roster, including standout goalie Julia Lisella.