Monday, March 30th, the NCAA DI Council is scheduled to vote and release their verdict regarding Division I Spring Sport eligibility following the sudden cancellation of spring athletics due to COVID-19. We are breaking down what you need to know as it pertains to softball:
Division I Council Coordination Committee agrees eligibility relief is appropriate for spring sports: pic.twitter.com/u7hwYOyTDV
— Inside the NCAA (@InsidetheNCAA) March 13, 2020
ISSUES WITH THE NCAA’S RESPONSE
First and foremost, there were a number of issues with the NCAA’s initial response to COVID-19 in the first couple of crucial days. Initially the NCAA called for the entire cancellation of all spring athletic championships. Following back lash about postponement over full on cancellation in the early stages it was rumored NCAA leadership would walk their initial ruling back and move into a “wait a see pattern”. We also have heard from many sources that the NCAA failed to communicate with university presidents and/or athletic directors before making announcements via Twitter; leaving departments struggling to field questions from coaches and student-athletes alike in a timely fashion as they were blinded themselves. Think about it this way, the first time a University Athletic Director had an update occurred at the same time a high school aged prospective student-athlete received the same information.
We live in a time of immediate “communication”, news, and contact. Where the NCAA failed was the “false start” in taking to Twitter. Maybe they had a direct line to the CDC and had all the information needed to conduct their communication strategy in this way? That’s not something we will probably ever know, though that doesn’t appear to be the case. Instead of taking a moment, they rushed to respond, had to back track, and ultimately caused more problems. Would we have ultimately ended up in the same situation with spring competition and championships being cancelled? Probably, but at least the NCAA would have given themselves a bit of room to adapt proactively as the situation evolved, not re-actively which often causes problems and did here.
Courtney of Kendall Rodgers (Twitter: @KendallRodgers), last week the NCAA ruled that all DII student-athletes would be granted a full relief year of eligibility.
Here’s the final word on the @NCAA DII front regarding eligibility. In essence, EVERYONE gets a year back.
Will be interesting to see if D1 follows suit as well. This applies to DII ONLY right now. https://t.co/yJqsFQl88M
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) March 20, 2020
Which, on the surface, appears to be a positive sign for those calling for a complete year of returned eligibility for DI spring athletes. Yet there are a number of implications and difference between DII and DI that need to be considered that make this more complicated than it may seem.
LONG TERM IMPLICATIONS
There is so much at stake regardless of the way the pending decision goes; from financials, NCAA legislation, roster sizes, scholarships, recruiting, statistics, and more.
Let’s start with the financials of a “blanketed waiver” for all spring athletes regardless of class. Ultimately, the biggest contention point here is the money: who pays for all of this? It’s a complicated question with a number of different avenues we can travel. Let’s dive into them:
Despite the NCAA DI softball season being cut short, promised scholarships have been paid in full and honored. We need to remember, scholarships run on an institution’s academic calendar, spring semester has been paid for regardless if softball season was cancelled within the first five weeks. But if extended eligibility is passed for all classes with the honoring (or extended continuation) of scholarships via the NLI – how does it get paid for? This is a potentially crippling question for a majority of athletic departments across the country who already struggle to fund their departments; especially the non-revenue generators.
We need to redefine “revenue generating”, or “rev-gen”, athletics quickly: “revenue generating” at its core is a term related to collegiate athletics and the financial operations of each individual institution. Does a sport bring in enough money to cover its’ own expense? Does it help support other programs in the department financially? Currently, softball is *not* a rev-gen, at least not in the “true” definition and nature of the term or in a majority of situations as it pertains to the operations of a collegiate athletic department. Even if a program pulls in an impressive amount of money can the program cover all of their travel expenses, game day and day-to-day operational costs, salaries, etc. No, most (if not all) can’t. You also have to remember this would apply to all spring sports, not just softball, and there are many.
Coaches forecast out scholarship dollar allocation for years given the needs of their program, break down of classes, graduations, etc. For example, let’s say Coach Doe is graduating an incredible pitcher who is a three-time All-American and a full ride student-athlete who’s scholarship dollars were set to be allocated towards two incoming top ranked freshmen following send senior’s graduation. The two incoming student-athletes have signed their NLI’s, have been admitted to the institution and are ready to begin classes that coming fall. But what if on the heels of Covid-19 and extended eligibility the senior comes back and is expecting that scholarship money? Do you see the issue? Suddenly there isn’t the necessary money left over to cover the incoming freshmen ….or, to cover that senior who is returning when that wasn’t expected or in the card? What happens next? Who pays for it? Does the NCAA increase scholarship limits for spring sport across the board? Do they increase forever or just for a few years while this all settles and coaches “balance out” their scholarship distribution? If that’s the case, how much time do coaches/sports get to restructure their recruiting classes and scholarships? What does that mean for those prospect and committed student-athletes? The questions just keep coming.
Here’s another wrench to throw into the mix: a few years ago the NCAA passed legislation that restricted colleges and universities for decreasing a student-athletes financial aid (or scholarship) once determined and/or raised. Why is this important? Well, softball is a perfect example right now with the transfer portal with the amount of movement we’ve seen – if for some reason a program has “left over” or “extra” scholarship money either due to transfers or other situations like a late loss of a high school commitment, a medical disqualification, etc. that program is allowed to reallocate that money if it wishes (always has been). Often times this money can find its way to an upperclassman who has “earned it”. Normally these can be “role playing” seniors who have put in the work but maybe don’t get all the glory yet are crucial the the fiber of the team. But here’s the thing, the thought is that extra money is only spent in said student-athlete’s last year or last semester – you used to see student-athletes across all classes potentially receiving scholarship “bumps” when there was money left over, let’s say for a semester, but reduced back down to their “NLI signed agreement” after the semester or school year ended. So how do universities and programs handle this particular situation if a blanket waiver is passed when NCAA legislation says you cannot strip a student-athlete of financial aid once it is granted? Does the NCAA look to revise that in the wake of this if they grant extended eligibility?
Then there is recruiting…. Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. The potential ripples of this are far reaching, vast, and impossible to predict. When it comes to the signed class of 2020, there isn’t much the NCAA can do there – or so I believe. The real question rests in-front of the 2021 and 2022 classes. Which, let’s save for after the decision comes down, that’s a separate and extremely lengthy conversation.
From there, as mentioned above, there are questions surrounding roster sizes, statistics, and more should full extended eligibility pass though these are topics to be discussed once decisions come down.
HOW DO UNIVERSITIES HANDLE THE EXTRA FINANCIAL LOAD
Should “eligibility relief with scholarships” pass there are so many questions left to be answered; arguably none more important than, “how will it be paid for?”
Make no mistake, for as much as departments make on football and other financial avenues, the NCAA will hemorrhage money with the loss of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament and the various others revenue streams from winter and spring athletics; which in turn means so will the universities and institutions that participate, benefit, and depend on that cash flow. The money “March Madness” hauls in is just that …utter madness (read up: https://www.washingtonpost.com/). It honestly a scary time for departments and programs across the country that rely on the money pulled from big events and revenue sharing agreements when a bulk of that income is now gone. Which, fun fact, is pretty much every department in the country.
I don’t have the answer, because at the end of the day, I don’t know how many schools can balance and find the funding to continue “business as usual”; especially if four years of extended eligibility with mandated honored scholarships are granted. I can’t help but feel like that could be bad news for some programs, especially those who may already be on the bubble of being cut from their respective athletic departments.
SO WHAT DO I THINK AND WHAT HAPPENS?
If we’re turning this into an “op-ed”, to be honest, I’m not sure… I obviously see both sides of the argument and first and foremost my heart 100% cries for all spring student-athletes to receive an eligibility waiver and the opportunity to play out their full four years. However, when looking at it purely pragmatically, that idea becomes more difficult in practice.
I think the NCAA will ultimately grant an extended year of eligibility for all student-athletes – if anything because there is, and would be, too much public backlash for them not to do so. I also believe it’s “all or nothing”; if seniors get it, so do the other classes as there is no legitimately suitable argument to extend eligibility solely to the senior class. Every argument for that can be countered far too easily.
What I think will be interesting to see is what they do with funding scholarships and that financial piece. A unique “solution” to this would be offering a year of eligibility back but without the promise of signed scholarship. It wouldn’t be popular but I believe it is the most feasible for departments the board while “leveling the playing field”; because here is another consideration, if the NCAA lets institutions figure out how to fund the “extra” scholarships themselves, you better believe the transfer portal is going to ramp up ten fold from what we’ve already seen. It’s a simple equation of “my school doesn’t have the money but this school does”. Don’t rule that out.
Detach emotions from the situation and let’s look at it pragmatically. In some cases, some student-athletes may receive a five-year NLI when they sign during their senior year of high school but most won’t; a four year guarantee is much more common. So technically, an extended year of eligibility does not necessarily guarantee another year of scholarship. So is that how it all plays out; eligibility but no extended scholarships outside of what was promised via the NLI? That’s not going to be popular but it makes a lot of sense.
—> Does the NCAA ponder the idea of delaying the season of incoming freshmen?
I highly doubt this, I’ve seen it thrown around across social media but I don’t know how that’d happen, legal contracts have been signed, the potential law suits would be huge. Personally, I believe you’re more likely to see no extended eligibility for current student-athletes before messing with the incoming freshmen class. Why? Well a) again, NLI’s have been signed and as far as I know, unless the student-athlete does something to violate NCAA/institutional rules it can’t be broken and b) because if you delay the freshman class that is only pushing off the problem for another year, it doesn’t actually solve anything. All and all, I doubt this happens.
—> Does the NCAA entertain the idea of finishing the season this immediate fall?
Another idea I’ve seen across social media is the idea of finishing the 2020 NCAA softball campaign in the fall while not allowing the incoming freshman to participate in games and resuming the 2021 season as scheduled, freshmen and all. I actually really like this idea, the few ways I’ve seen it mapped out it could really work…. IF softball was the only sport. Unfortunately, will the fall line up (e.g. football) it’s just not possible. Universities do not have the staff and resources to move and over lap spring sports with the fall, it truly isn’t feasible. That’s not even diving into the financials of it all. I don’t see this taking form, even though in theory, it’s got some merit.
Note: Per Kendall Rodgers, the NCAA DI vote could be delayed until June.
SOURCE: There were rumblings earlier today that the #NCAA D1 Council meeting to decide eligibility relief would be delayed until June. It’s still slated for Monday with a vote still on the agenda. Council reserves the right to push until later Monday, but not in the plans for now
— Kendall Rogers (@KendallRogers) March 27, 2020