NCAA Approves Additional Year of Eligibility for Spring Sports Athletes, Denies Additional Eligibility for Winter Sports Athletes

By Dan Hope on March 30, 2020 at 6:58 pm
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Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA has officially approved an additional year of eligibility for spring sports athletes, but winter sports athletes whose seasons ended abruptly will not get a year back.

The NCAA's Division I Council voted Monday “to allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.”

The NCAA had previously announced earlier this month that the Division I Council's Coordination Committee had “agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” but now that framework is officially in place after a vote by the full council.

Monday's ruling by the Division I Council does not guarantee that spring sports athletes who would have otherwise exhausted their eligibility in 2019-20 will continue to receive the same amount of financial aid; each school will be able to make those decisions at its own discretion.

With the NCAA's revenue distribution for Division I members set to drop from approximately $600 million to just $225 million for this year due to the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament and other championship events, some schools may be unable to afford to pay for additional scholarships. That said, the NCAA will allow give schools the ability to use the NCAA's Student Assistance Fund to help pay for scholarships for athletes returning for an additional year of eligibility.

In order to accommodate seniors who are getting an additional year of eligibility in addition to incoming freshmen, the NCAA will allow spring sports teams to exceed the scholarship limits for their respective sports for the 2020-21 academic year.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Penn. “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.”

Ohio State's spring sports teams that could now potentially have expanded rosters for 2020-21 include baseball, softball, rowing, men's and women's outdoor track and field, men's and women's golf, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's tennis and men's volleyball.

In a teleconference with reporters on March 13, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said he was “definitely in support of an extra year or semester for eligibility for our spring sport athletes,” though he also said on that call that the financial impact of increased scholarships would need to be considered.

The Division I Council also considered the possibility of granting eligibility relief to winter sports athletes whose seasons were cut short when the NCAA opted to cancel all of its championships for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak, but ultimately decided against that, as the majority of those athletes had completed their regular seasons while some had finished their seasons altogether.

For seniors from Ohio State's basketball, fencing, gymnastics, hockey, pistol, rifle, swimming and diving and wrestling teams, that means their careers as Buckeyes are now over, even though none of those teams had the opportunity to fully complete their 2019-20 seasons.

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