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NCAA gives spring sport athletes extra year of eligibility

The NCAA will permit spring sport athletes — including those at Siena College and the University at Albany — who had their seasons shortened by the coronavirus pandemic to have an additional year of eligibility.

The NCAA Division I council voted Monday to give spring sport athletes, such as baseball, softball and lacrosse, regardless of their year in school, a way to get back the season they lost, but did not guarantee financial aid to the current crop of seniors if they return to play next year.

“I think it’s a good thing to do for those students that lost that year of eligibility,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said. “So I think that’s valuable to them. And it’s like anything else, now it’s working through the details and figuring out what you can do as an institution.”

Winter sports, such as basketball and hockey, were not included in the decision, the NCAA declining to extend eligibility in sports where all or much of the regular seasons were completed. The Siena men’s basketball and RPI hockey teams were still playing in their conference tournaments when they were canceled. 

“I thought it would go that way where they would not give that year back,” D’Argenio said. “So much of the season was completed and just about everybody had made it through the regular season. It would have been very difficult.”

The Division I Council is made up of college sports administrators representing all 32 D-I conferences, plus two members of the student-athlete advisory committee.

How much scholarship money will be made available to each athlete whose college career would have ended this spring will be determined by the athlete’s school. The amount could range from nothing to as much the athlete had been receiving.

“We had long discussions around the fact that this does not avoid substantially difficulty circumstances, but what we felt was important was to localize decision-making and to ensure that we were as permissive as possible,” said Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun, who is council chairwoman.

Schools also will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21.

Roster and scholarship limits will be adjusted next season to fit returning athletes along with incoming freshmen.

“Certainly, it’s going to be a cost impact,” D’Argenio said. “That’ll be a discussion we’ll have to have with our financial aid office and the college in terms of how much flexibility we may have.”

NCAA Division I rules allow athletes to have four seasons of competition in a five-year period. Schools will be allowed to apply for waivers to restore one of those seasons for any athlete who competed while eligible in the spring season shortened by COVID-19 in 2020. But after the 2021 spring season, scholarship and roster limits will apply to those athletes.

UAlbany men’s lacrosse coach Scott Marr was pleased by the news as a coach and father. His daughter, Jordyn, is a senior on the UAlbany women’s lacrosse team.

“It’s a pretty nice bonus, something they can look forward to if they decide to come back,” Marr said. “From what I gather from her and most of the seniors that play, you just don’t feel like you completed your time. You want to see it through.”

Marr, who has a dozen seniors, said he had been reluctant to discuss an extra year with them before the NCAA’s decision came down. Since most spring sport athletes are only on partial scholarships, they’ll have to decide whether they want to pay for another year of school or enter the job market.

Marr also wondered how he’ll manage a larger roster and whether he’ll have to recruit smaller classes in the near future.

“We still don’t know any of the details,” Marr said. “Every institution is going to be different how they handle it, so I’m certainly going to wait and see what my boss (athletic director) Mark Benson says the next couple of days and where we go. There’s a lot of things that come into play with this. Money is definitely one of them.”

D’Argenio said seniors who decide to return must decide if it’s worth investing in the extra year.

“I think coaches and players interested in doing this have to have some very honest and frank discussions about what students’ roles on the team will be,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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