From the outside looking in, the NCAA was very considerate in making the nearly immediate decision to grant spring Division I student-athletes an extra season of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic.
From the inside looking out, however, it’s not that simple.
The NCAA announced its decision to give back this lost season of competition just a day after the rest of the spring calendar – including the postseason – had been wiped. It was certainly the right thing to say in a time when everyone needed good news and a little bit of hope. In fact, we could all use more of that as we continue to deal with the hand the coronavirus has dealt us.
After a March 30 meeting of the NCAA Division I Council, the eligibility extension received a stamp of approval. However, it came with many questions.
First, the money.
It’s up to individual schools to determine how much scholarship aid to extend to these athletes who would have been playing in their final year of eligibility. Some schools would be in for well over $1 million if they provide the same dollar amount currently on the books to seniors who choose to return next fall.
Most schools are under pressure each year to balance the books, and this would certainly be an unexpected cost that will be hard to deal with. Some schools will pay the full amount to athletes who return for another year. Some may pay a percentage, and others might not pay for any of the additional costs at all.
Already, Iowa State University is reportedly cutting coaches’ pay next year to help with lost revenue from the Big 12 and NCAA basketball tournaments. We will certainly hear of more schools doing the same thing or something similar. The decision to provide scholarship aid to players coming back may fall well down the totem pole when it comes to finances.
So far, only the Ivy League has announced that it will not honor the extra year of eligibility for its student athletes. That move isn’t about the money, but instead is consistent with longstanding Ivy League policies that maintain athletic opportunities are intended for undergraduates. Will there be more?
While money is a big part of the equation, it’s not the only factor to consider. Let’s go deeper.
Golf is an equivalency sport. The NCAA allows men’s teams four and a half scholarships while women’s teams have six full scholarships available. That means men’s players are often on partial scholarships while players on women’s teams more often receive full scholarships. One clarification the Council did provide was that it would adjust scholarship limits to account for new incoming student-athletes and seniors who decide to return for an extra season.
I can’t imagine any school telling those players they are not welcomed back, but I would expect they will tell them that if they want to return, it will be at their own expense.
In the event she returns for a final year, a female student-athlete who had been on a full scholarship might now have to pay the full amount. For a male player, it might just come down to adding more cost (and potentially racking up more debt) to what that individual had already been paying. I expect many of those individuals will not want to add that cost and likely will just move on with their post-college plans.
There’s also academic aid to consider. That aid does not come from athletics and does not extend after graduation.
From here, we could be journeying into the unknown (the unknown, by the way, being the transfer portal). Could we see a spike in golfers (not just seniors) testing the waters to see if they could get aid, or more aid, elsewhere?
Maybe a team has three seniors coming back. All three played. That same team has three good players coming in. Might we see a sophomore, junior or incoming senior look for another team where it would be easier to crack the lineup? This happens all the time in other sports, with college football quarterbacks in particular coming to mind.
The bottom line is that the extra year of eligibility is a great opportunity for many players – even those who weren’t making the lineup. It’s another chance, sort of like a real-life mulligan.
Then again, what will it mean for recruiting and available aid for those in the 2021 class and beyond? Remember that it’s not just the seniors receiving an extra year, it’s all classes. With everyone eligible to stick around another year, it cuts into the money that would have been there for the next few recruiting classes.
This also adds to the inequities we already see in college athletics: Those who can afford the extra cost will be fine, and those who can’t will struggle.
With so many people losing so much in this pandemic, it’s a good thing that these student-athletes can find something positive in this situation. But at the end of the day, it’s not going to shake out fairly for everyone and it might not work out at all for some.
This is a pandemic, a world issue. Maybe it would have been best to just move on. Nobody can answer that question right now. Only time will tell.