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April 11, 2020

Coronavirus and its Effect on College Sports Moving Forward

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Last week, the NCAA formalized its decision to allow schools to grant spring athletes an extra season of eligibility in light of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a good and logical choice, but it still leaves plenty of uncertainty for both current and prospective college athletes moving forward. Here are three big questions surrounding the NCAA’s latest move that might be of interest to both current and prospective athletes.

Will my scholarship be affected?

The NCAA’s statement didn’t directly discuss these implications, so my take is that your scholarship value is up to your coach, and it will likely depend on your university’s athletic budget. The NCAA might have provided schools with the flexibility to give athletes the opportunity to return for a fifth year, but it did so without requiring schools to do so, or honor scholarship values at their pre-coronavirus levels. The NCAA did increase scholarship/roster caps, but that does not mean that schools have to increase scholarship funding to athletes just because the ceiling has been raised. Thinking realistically, I do not believe athletic departments will increase the value of athlete scholarships, because financially speaking, many of these programs operate in the red. If anything, the value of athletic scholarships will stay the same or decrease, so it doesn’t hurt to talk to your coach about it, especially if you are undecided on a school or are considering transferring right now. If you’re not too deep into the recruiting process, it also might be smart to consider competing for a mid-major program, where the competition is still elite, but the cost is exponentially less. 

Is my position/playing time at risk?

Perhaps. This is one of the unintended side effects of granting seniors extra eligibility: a senior returning to play for an additional season will inevitably take an underclassmen’s roster spot. However, I think the number of seniors who will return to play for an extra year isn’t as big as people are making it out to be. Under bylaw 14.2.2, which covers athlete requirements for competition, NCAA athletes must be full-time students (or the equivalent of full-time students per their institution’s guidelines) in order to compete. Therefore, only seniors who are going to be full-time students during their fifth year of athletic competition (e.g., graduate students, or those who are enrolled in five-year programs) are allowed to use their eligibility relief. But if you are an incoming freshman, I wouldn’t sweat it too much. True first-year students aren’t as likely to get playing time as upperclassmen, and you can learn valuable lessons from fifth-year seniors. If you have teammates who are extending their careers thanks to the coronavirus, use their extra eligibility wisely for yourself, too. 

I am a fall athlete. Will my season start on time?

That’s a great question and one that I don’t have an answer to quite yet. The NCAA hasn’t released a statement on the fall season, but the University of Kentucky just canceled all of its summer clinics, while Major League Baseball is considering starting its season in May, as long as all teams, games, and training are confined to the state of Arizona with no spectators present. My advice would be to keep an eye on how NCAA conferences and professional sports leagues are handling their activities moving forward. The NCAA was one of the last major athletic governing bodies to cancel March Madness after taking cues from its conferences and the pro leagues, so it’s likely it will also drag its feet on making an announcement in the fall season, especially if it has to be pushed back, or even called off. As an athlete, it’s wise to tackle your off-season as if you will start on time. It’s always easier to throttle back your training than ramp it up.