All NCAA Division I student-athletes who lost their spring seasons because of the coronavirus pandemic will have the option of a do-over.
The D-I Council — with 41 members including athletic directors, conference commissioners, administrators and two student-athletes — on Monday voted heavily in favor of the measure to offer a blanket waiver for all competitors into the spring of 2021. A key component allows each school to choose how much aid it gives to each returning athlete who would have exhausted their eligibility. A program can match what it provided this season, offer less money or offer none.
The decision, which appeared far from a certainty through the weekend, falls in line with actions already taken by Division II, Division III, the NAIA and the NJCAA. It also comes with a potentially significant price tag: USA Today has estimated that the cost of retaining just current baseball seniors next year will be between $500,000 and $900,000 for most schools.
Spring teams may also carry more members on scholarship next year than standard limits to account for incoming recruits and seniors who choose to return. In a temporary measure, schools will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for 2021 scholarships for seniors who opt for additional eligibility.
“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said council Chairwoman M. Grace Calhoun, the Pennsylvania athletic director, in a press release. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”
Baseball, which has a 35-man roster limit, will be accommodated with an increased roster size based on how many seniors come back. It is the only spring sport with a player limit.
Winter sports were not included in the decision.
Nebraska has 21 listed seniors in men’s spring sports, while the women’s side has 20. That includes Kate Smith, one of the best women’s golfers in program history, who set a school record for stroke average (73.52) last year. Another is Tristen Edwards, an outfielder who is in the running for multiple NU career softball records — she’s seven doubles away from the No. 1 spot, for example. Women’s tennis player Claire Reifeis was an All-Big Ten honoree last season.
Men’s track had 12 seniors this year, while baseball had six active seniors. Among them are starting outfielders Mojo Hagge and Joe Acker, starting catcher Luke Roskam and Friday starting pitcher Gareth Stroh.
Hagge and Roskam indicated to The World-Herald last week that they would return if the D-I Council approved the measure. Acker said the financial aid piece would factor into his decision.
Nebraska baseball coach Will Bolt said last week that he is in favor of restoring eligibility for everyone but also understands the monetary challenge of that decision.
“It’s hard to grasp that when you’re 20 years old,” Bolt said. “It is. But you learn through the years that life’s not always fair and you have to roll with the punches at times.”
Said Acker, when asked what the 2021 Huskers would look like if seniors could return: “It would be a very large roster, and I think there would be a lot of talent. We would not be short on talent, that’s for sure.”
Appearing on “Sports Nightly,” Nebraska softball coach Rhonda Revelle said the athletic department has meetings planned for the next several days to explore possible courses of action.
“There’s heartbreak after heartbreak after heartbreak,” Revelle said. “So as we get this ruling today, you see a glimmer of sunshine in what otherwise is a cloudy sky. So we’ll see moving forward how we’re able to apply it at the University of Nebraska.”
A statement from Nebraska Athletic Director Bill Moos is expected Tuesday.
National reports indicated that a weekend letter from the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) may have swayed council members. In a written statement from 60 members that included representatives from 39 Power Five schools, the body asked for a chance for all winter- and spring-sport athletes to retain eligibility and for returning seniors to have renewed scholarships that would not count toward financial aid limits. Junior men’s golfer Daniel Pearson is Nebraska’s SAAC president and rep.
The NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee issued a nonbinding message that “eligibility is appropriate for all Division-I student athletes who participated in spring sports” when seasons started being canceled March 13. But it offered no details until Monday’s decision.
Those on the council with ties to the Big Ten include Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta, league Commissioner Jim Delany — whose term ends June 30 — and faculty athletics rep Kurt Zorn of Indiana.
The decision, which the council could have tabled until June, allows those associated with spring programs to move forward. Seniors can learn of their aid situation and decide their next steps, whether that’s graduating or coming back to school. Coaches can craft rosters. Incoming recruits will get a sense of depth charts. Administrators, already taking a financial hit with the loss of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and college football in jeopardy, have a better sense of their budgets.