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Coronavirus: Thoughts & Advice on NCAA & NAIA Spring Sports Being Cancelled

This has obviously been a shocking week as the tremendous impact of the coronavirus continues to unfold. We’ve been receiving a lot of questions about the impact on the eligibility of college student-athletes as their sport seasons are being cancelled – in some cases right before or even during a game (Big East Conference basketball tournament)!!

What I Believe and Know Right Now

I do believe it’s quite possible that the NCAA and NAIA will grant a “blanket waiver” for student-athletes to have an additional season of eligibility if their season has been completely cancelled. However, that may depend upon how many games have been played and whether the season is completely cancelled or is “suspended” until further notice.

I was told yesterday that some smaller colleges were apparently “suspending the season indefinitely” but might return to play for the last 3 or 4 weeks of the season. They announced at that time that they may resume the season if they return to classroom instruction after a few weeks. In a case like that, I’m not sure what the NCAA will do.

In fact, as I was writing this I saw a tweet that “…no decision has been made yet by the SEC about the baseball season after March 30, despite the NCAA announcement to cancel the College World Series.”

Potential Impact on Athletic Scholarships

Let’s start with this underlying assumption (although I can’t guarantee that the NCAA and NAIA will treat this situation as I expect):

If an athlete meets the standard guidelines and conditions for a “regular” hardship waiver, I expect that the NCAA will grant those athletes another season of eligibility.

As a reminder, those conditions are that an athlete hasn’t appeared in more than 30% of their team’s games, hasn’t appeared in a game after the midpoint of the season, and wasn’t able to complete their season due to “circumstances beyond their control.”

But then if another season of eligibility is granted to a large number of athletes from a team, we have the ripple effect with questions such as:

  • How will that impact NCAA or NAIA scholarship limits in baseball and all other spring sports?
  • If scholarship players who the coach thought would be finishing their eligibility this year are able to return for another year, does he or she renew their scholarship?
  • Or do they tell some incoming freshman that their scholarship isn’t going to be available because of too many current players returning?? (After all, an NCAA National Letter of Intent signed by a recruit is a contract that basically means “I have the right to receive the scholarship value that was listed in the agreement I signed with your university as long as I am admissible to your university and meet all NCAA eligibility requirements.”)

What I’ve Learned from NCAA and NAIA So Far

There are obviously many unknowns about this situation. This situation has been described by some as “very fluid” with some changes being announced within hours of a previous announcement.

As I’m writing this, here is an excerpt from a recent statement from the NCAA legislative staff:

“…questions have related to a wide range of regulations including eligibility, membership requirements and student-athlete benefits.

Most importantly, conferences and institutions are encouraged to make decisions and take action in the best interests of their student-athletes and communities. Conferences and institutions should not be concerned about the application of NCAA legislation when decisions are being made in response to COVID-19.”

In my opinion, that statement means that we all need to be patient because the NCAA will be considering many factors and won’t be making quick decisions on these questions.

Also, my contacts at the NAIA national office told me:

We have to meet with our governing bodies to begin discussing any exceptions that may occur due to these circumstances. We will have phone calls starting tomorrow afternoon and I’m sure they will move into next week. Not sure when we will be able to share any news.”

Advice to Consider

  • Be sure that your athlete maintains their focus on their academic coursework to ensure that they have a chance to be eligible next year. While some athletes may become depressed or lose focus on their academics as a result of losing their season, if they don’t successfully complete their classes this semester, it can damage their eligibility for next year.
  • Some bedrock NCAA and NAIA rules won’t change if your athlete returns for an extra season next year. For one, they will need to be taking a full-time course load to be eligible for practice and competition next year. Will they be willing and able to pay for another year of college if they’ve already graduated and were originally planning to start their post-college life?
  • Because many colleges are moving classes online, make sure that your athlete takes steps to save all of their assignments and can track when an assignment or test was submitted. The last problem you want them to have is an eligibility issue because the professor didn’t receive a test or assignment by the required deadline or didn’t receive it at all.
  • In the very unlikely anticipation that schools might possibly “wipe out” their stats for this season, you may want to take a screenshot or photo of the team’s stat sheet on the athletic website to record how many games your athlete appeared in and how many total games were played by the team this season in case that’s needed for a waiver to get another year of eligibility.
  • A “blanket waiver” issued by the NCAA or NAIA will apply to all student-athletes who fall within the guidelines and requirements of the conditions stated in such a waiver.
  • For waivers that are specific to a particular student-athlete when their situation doesn’t fall under a “blanket waiver” the student-athlete will need their university to submit the waiver to the NCAA or NAIA on their behalf.
  • Follow the social media page(s) for your school’s athletic compliance office as they will be posting updates for student-athletes at that particular college. (By the way, you can follow us on Twitter @InformedAthlete or on our Facebook page.)
  • If an athlete is currently attending a junior college and receives a waiver for an additional year of eligibility from the NJCAA or the CCCAA, be aware that such a waiver may not be automatically honored by the NCAA (or NAIA) when a junior college athlete transfers to an NCAA or NAIA program. For example, academic eligibility at an NCAA program often depends in part upon the number of semesters that an athlete attended a junior college as a full-time student.

What’s Next

While it could be days or even weeks before we start to receive some definite guidance from the NCAA, NAIA, and NJCAA, we will be happy to provide as much advice as we can for those of you who are interested in a confidential consultation.

In a private consultation, we will discuss your athlete’s specific situation and provide options and scenarios so you’ll be informed and ready to move forward as things play out.

Schedule a confidential Scholarship Consultation online or by calling us at 913-766-1235 or sending an email to rick@informedathlete.com.