Spring sports at most colleges and universities in America don’t generate revenue nor are they generally followed like a religion like football and basketball.
Yet, to the athletes who participate in track and field, softball and baseball, these sports are a huge part of their lives.
But the coronavirus pandemic has turned those sports — and the lives of the athletes — upside down.
This is not a trivial matter. For those who have the talent and drive to play in college, following their dreams is a central part of their lives.
No, this is not about getting a full-ride scholarship or a stepping stone to the riches of professional sports. It’s simply about high school athletes participating at the next level in sports they love.
“The whole game’s changed,” Jack Renkens, the founder and president of Recruiting Realities, told Seattle Times sports reporter Jayda Evans as she looked into the ramifications of the NCAA’s decision to allow spring-sports athletes an additional year of eligibility. (The article was published Monday in the U-B on page B1.)
“You want to see the kid in-person and this shutdown makes it extremely difficult. What used to be a crapshoot is more of a crapshoot,” Renkens added.
It’s not just the various coaching staffs facing a changed game.
Many young athletes might have to rethink where they might go to school to play.
What’s different about spring sports compared to football and basketball is the number of full scholarships allowed. While Division 1 football programs can have 85 athletes on full scholarship and basketball 13 for men and 15 for women, baseball and softball each get 12 scholarships to be split among each team’s roster. Track and field teams get 18 for women and 12.6 for men.
So, while the NCAA has allowed an extra year of eligibility, and apparently won’t count the 2020 seniors remaining on scholarship against the cap, there is no guarantee money will be available to fund the extra scholarships.
Division III schools, such as Whitman College, can’t offer even a penny of athletic scholarship money. These schools, however, can offer academic scholarships. NAIA schools, such as Walla Walla University, can offer some athletic money.
These schools, too, will have to make hard calls as seniors come back for another year and new student athletes arrive on campus. While rosters might be increased, baseball and softball rules only allow nine players on the field at a time.
“Division III and NAIA coaches are going to get higher-quality athletes now,” Renkens told Evans. “Because these high-end kids that are scholarship players, they’re not going to have any place to go. Now they’re going to look at some of these other schools because they can get funded.”
The impact of the pandemic will likely have a ripple effect in college sports, particularly spring sports, for years to come.
The dreams of many high school athletes aren’t necessarily dashed, but some will have to be adjusted.