The NCAA Should Give Extra Years Of Eligibility To Spring And Winter Athletes

The NCAA canceled the postseason tournaments for winter and spring sports on Thursday, a major step in the ongoing effort to promote social distancing while COVID-19 spreads throughout the United States. While it’s something no one wanted to see happen, we’re in unprecedented times, and as such, an unprecedented measure was taken.

Of course, while this is something bigger than sports, there are unintended consequences, namely that seniors whose eligibility ends after this season will lose out on the opportunity to play for championships. In an attempt to remedy this, Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic brings word that the NCAA is trying to figure out a plan that would give spring athletes — and potentially winter athletes — the opportunity to come back next year with an extra year of eligibility.

In a letter sent out by the NCAA, it was made clear that winter sports will, indeed, be on the table.

In a statement, the Division I Council Coordination Committee announced that it finds this sort of thing appropriate for spring athletes.

Some have been advocating for this over the last 24 hours. Jay Bilas, for example, appeared on ESPN’s Get Up on Friday morning and made this argument.

“I think that would be entirely appropriate and it is certainly within the ability of the NCAA to get done,” Bilas said. “We talk all the time about athlete welfare, and this is something that the NCAA could do with relative ease, and I think should do, and it would be for anyone that wants to come back and compete. What would be wrong with that? To have a person in school for another year, who would be hurt by that? I think it would be a wonderful gesture and something that would certainly make everybody feel better after something that has been an extraordinarily difficult time.”

Now, to be clear, perhaps seniors, redshirt seniors, and grad students will decide they do not want to spend another year in college and will want to make the jump to professional sports or the workforce. Being an unpaid student-athlete for another year would, theoretically, not be the best thing for every early-to-mid 20-something playing a college sport.

But there are still plenty of seniors who have put years of work into getting the chance to compete for a title for the first time. An example with which I am particularly familiar is Lamar Stevens, the starting power forward for my alma mater, Penn State. Stevens, a first-team All-Big Ten selection this year and someone who is seven points away from becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer, is a senior who was on the verge of making the tournament for the first time in his career — aside, it would have been the first time the program made it since 2010-11, and the first time it made it under ninth-year head coach Pat Chambers. In the aftermath of the news, Stevens tweeted the following:

For someone like Stevens, or one of the seniors at a school like Rutgers (which has long been a laughing stock but looked like it was going to make the tourney for the first time since 1990-91), or even seniors who have made it before but are now losing one final opportunity like Udoka Azubuike of Kansas, Markus Howard of Marquette, Payton Prichard of Oregon, having this taken away from them is absolutely gutting. The NCAA is a multi-billion dollar institution, surely it can find the money to give whatever number of seniors who want to return on scholarships another chance after they lost out on this one. This also applies to numerous athletes in other sports, from hockey, to wrestling, to lacrosse, to everything in between.

Again, not everyone will take this opportunity but there’s no harm in putting the opportunity on the table for all of these athletes. If the most important thing in college athletics is doing right by student-athletes, then once we get through the coming days and weeks and things hopefully start to settle, the NCAA should do right by them.