The decision by the NCAA to cancel all winter and spring championships due to the public health emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic was the right decision -- but also a tremendous disappointment to the student-athletes who compete in all of those sports and found their seasons abruptly cut short. Fortunately, the NCAA has already announced plans to offer "eligibility relief" (i.e., an additional year of eligibility to replace the one lost in this aborted sports season) to athletes in spring sports:
Division I Council Coordination Committee agrees eligibility relief is appropriate for spring sports: pic.twitter.com/u7hwYOyTDV— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) March 13, 2020
The exact details of the "eligibility relief" are still be TBD. Certainly this creates some potential challenges in terms of scholarship limits, as well as the possibility of some additional, unplanned financial burdens on colleges, so there are a lot of potentially complex details to work out. Still, this decision is absolutely the right call -- the mass cancellation of multiple seasons due to a public health emergency is an unprecedented situation and it demands an unprecedented response. It was brutally unfair for athletes in spring sports to have their seasons ended just a few weeks after they had begun. While this exact year of competition can never be regained, that lost year of eligibility can be returned to them and it's good to see the NCAA planning to do that.
It's important to note that this decision only applies to spring sports, not winter sports. Which sports fit in which bucket? Here's a good breakdown:
For clarity, spring sports NCAA is going to work through granting another season of eligibility: baseball, beach vb, golf, lax, rowing, softball, tennis, track, mens vb, womens water polo.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) March 13, 2020
Winter TBD: basketball, bowling, gym, hockey, fencing, skiing, swim/dive, wrestling.
The timing of the mass cancellations by the NCAA came at a very awkward moment for those winter sports, though. In most (if not all) cases, the regular season competition for those sports had been completed (give or take a conference tournament), but the NCAA Championships for all of them were scheduled to take place in the next few weeks.
So winter sports athletes did get to compete in most of their seasons before those campaigns ended in the blink of an eye this week. That's not nothing. But... for many of those winter sports, it's also true that the regular seasons are essentially just one protracted qualifying campaign before the one and only event that really matters: the NCAA Championships. The chance to be an NCAA champion is what drives so many of these athletes, so taking that away from them is taking the one thing that truly matters in a given season. So it would be great to see some sort of eligibility relief made available to winter sports athletes, too. After all, who among us wouldn't want to spend a bit more time with Luka Garza? Or Spencer Lee? Or Kathleen Doyle?
Will that happen? TBD.
Per source, NCAA sent a note to membership today saying it believes "it will be appropriate to grant relief for the use of a season for competition for student-athletes who have participated in spring sports."— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 13, 2020
NCAA will start working on issues tied to this & winter athletes.
The committee working on this issue and how to make it work (financial aid implications, etc.) is a standing committee called the Division I Council Coordination Committee, and it says it will work on this in "a timely manner."— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) March 13, 2020
Would an additional year of eligibility apply only to seniors? All players? Impossible to say. Again, there are a lot of details still to be worked out here. But it's definitely a very important story and one that we'll be keeping a close eye on as it develops.