The NCAA Division I Council is scheduled to vote on granting winter and spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility on Monday as their seasons came to an unexpected end due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
For the athletes that competed in a winter sport, they missed their opportunity to compete for national titles despite playing through their entire regular seasons. The sports that are considered winter sports include basketball and indoor track. As for the spring sports, the athletes were able to start their seasons but did not get to the conference slate of their schedules. Spring sports include baseball, softball, outdoor track, tennis and golf.
While there is a debate surrounding the pros and cons of granting the student-athletes an extra year of eligibility to compensate them for their missed season, Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby shared his view on the unprecedented situation.
“More than anything else, we have thousands of young people that have counted on the structure and the engagement in collegiate athletics that now have had that suspended in ways that are now both heartbreaking and emotionally challenging,” Bowlsby said.
Starting with the winter sports athletes, Bowlsby reflected on his college days as he was a wrestler at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
“I came up as a college wrestler and for college wrestlers, the opportunity to wrestle in the Division I tournament at the end of the year is the pinnacle of opportunity,” Bowlsby said. “For people that are trying to capture a second, or third or even a fourth national championship, to lose a year is an enormous thing.”
While the winter sports athletes missed their opportunity to be named national champions, the spring sport athletes did not even get the chance to see if they would make the pool as they were not even halfway done with their seasons.
“The heartbreaking nature of not getting to have your season year, I think anyone would have empathy for the young people that have worked so hard and haven’t gotten an opportunity,” Bowlsby said.
While he is understanding of the situation the student-athletes are in as their collegiate careers did not end on their terms, Bowlsby said some things concern him about making a decision on Monday.
One concern Bowlsby expressed was the uncertainty of the situation. As he has heard from several people that COVID-19 could last several months and possibly have a rebound without a vaccine, Bowlsby questioned if the NCAA would grant fall sport athletes an extra year of eligibility. He also questioned how the extra year of eligibility would interface with their academics.
After speaking about his concerns regarding the uncertainty of the pandemic, Bowlsby also spoke about the expense of allowing student-athletes to play a fifth season. Along with his worries, he also brought up the point about NCAA restrictions that will need to be changed if the committee votes to grant an extra year of eligibility to the athletes. Some of the bylaws that would need to be altered include elements of squad lifts and the number of scholarships allowed.
“The one thing I have kind of come to closure with it is that I really think as much as everyone wants to know if they’re going to get another year, I think we would be well served by waiting a period of time to make the decisions to be able to see a little bit more of the data and see what the next 30 or 60 days brings us,” Bowlsby said. “We know the student-athlete population and coaching population want answers as soon as possible, but in the interest of making high-quality solutions be the outcome, I think we are well-advised to wait.”
While Bowlsby voiced his own opinion about waiting to make a decision, he said he was on a conference call where the delay of the vote was discussed. He also noted that the vote will be a council decision but would not be surprised if the board weighed in on the discussion.
The NCAA Division I Council will vote on whether or not it should grant student-athletes an extra year of eligibility on Monday. The council consists of representatives from all 32 conferences.