The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to approve an extra year of eligibility for all spring sport athletes who had their seasons canceled because of COVID-19, but the generosity will come with a caveat for seniors:
If they choose to return for another year, the Council, “in a nod to the financial uncertainty faced by higher education,” provided schools the flexibility to give athletes whose eligibility was set to expire in 2019-20 the chance to come back in 2020-21 without requiring that athletics aid be awarded to each player at the same level.
While seniors could see their scholarship agreements changed — in some cases decreased to zero aid — underclassmen and incoming freshmen will not see a difference.
Coaches will have to have some difficult conversations in the coming weeks with seniors who want another shot at finishing their careers on a championship note but might have to pay more of their schooling.
“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, Penn’s athletic director, said in a statement. “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.”
Members adjusted financial aid rules to allow teams to carry more players on scholarship to account for an influx of newcomers with any seniors who decide to stay. Schools also will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who come back.
NCAA athletes start their careers with five years to play four seasons in their sport. For all current spring sport athletes, they now will six years to complete their eligibility.
Winter sports such as basketball and ice hockey were not included in the ruling because much or all of their regular seasons were completed.
The Council also increased the roster limit in baseball to help schools better manage inflated scholarship numbers.