When the NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to give student-athletes in spring sports a second go, many felt it was the right thing to do.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy.
“It’s not perfect,” Gophers baseball coach John Anderson said. “But there is no perfect answer here.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced college athletics to cease two weeks ago. To rectify that, the NCAA decided to allow schools to give additional seasons and eligibility extensions for spring sports that had only just begun their seasons. Winter-sport athletes, who missed just their postseasons, are not included.
How this decision actually will play out, though, is complicated.
It’s unclear how many of the more than 30 Gophers spring sports seniors might choose to return, since individual schools can decide to match the scholarship each athlete had in 2019-20 fully, partly or not at all. So some athletes might face an increased financial burden to play again.
“This is at least an opportunity for people that want to come back and can afford to come back and want to go to more school”
All-America softball pitcher Amber Fiser has been vocal on social media in support of a makeup season, as she hoped to help the Gophers to another Women’s College World Series. Fiser was not made available to comment Monday but previously told Star Tribune she was still undecided about coming back.
“I know that your vote will completely impact and change my life forever,” Fiser said in a Twitter video posted Sunday before the Council met. “We all deserve to play.”
The NCAA removed barriers such as roster and scholarship limits while also letting schools use the league’s Student Assistance Fund to pay returners’ scholarships. But Anderson said in a meeting that Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle held with spring-sports coaches Monday evening, they learned that the fund would be reduced by 70% because the NCAA lost revenue from this year’s canceled men’s basketball tournament.
Anderson also said Coyle, who could not be reached for comment, informed coaches they can’t exceed their scholarship limit, which is 11.7 in Anderson’s case. Anderson has only one senior on his roster, fifth-year infielder Jordan Kozicky. Anderson said he can’t even figure out how much financial aid he will have to disburse until this summer’s MLB draft, which could be shortened from 40 rounds to as few as five, meaning Anderson could lose far fewer than the four to six players he expected.
A player potentially returning, fewer players leaving early and incoming freshmen present a puzzle for scholarships and playing time. And since all players currently on the roster have the chance at another year, that means ramifications could trickle down to even 2022 commitments.
Anderson said he “winced” when he first heard the decision, as he knew how confusing enacting it would be. He said it took the NCAA “off the hook,” putting the onus on schools to figure out the logistics.
He’s also worried about parity, as his team of 35 with 11.7 scholarships could end up facing teams of 45 with 15 if they bring back 10 seniors because either the schools or the athletes had the financial means.
“The haves and the have-nots get farther apart here for a while,” Anderson said.
While it certainly would have been less complex for no recompense, Anderson said the essence of the ruling is good, even if he’s unsure just how many athletes will realistically use it.
“This is at least an opportunity for people that want to come back and can afford to come back and want to go to more school,” Anderson said. “… That’s what we’re all here for at the end of the day: to give student-athletes opportunities.”