The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to permit an additional season of competition and eligibility to all spring-sport athletes who were unable to complete the 2019-20 athletic year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision does not apply to athletes in winter sports like basketball where "all or much of their regular seasons were completed," per an NCAA release.
The move specifically allows schools to self-apply waivers to restore an additional season of competition and an extension of eligibility for spring-sport athletes. Normally, athletes have four seasons of competition that must be exhausted in a five-year window.
On March 13, the day after the NCAA Tournament was formally canceled, the NCAA Council Coordination Committee deemed it "appropriate" for athletes in spring sports to regain a year of eligibility.
That stance at least shifted for some last week as schools faced a huge shortfall from lost NCAA Tournament revenue.the discussion had gone "sideways" because of budget concerns from programs that would need to fund additional, unexpected scholarships.
The council responded to this concern by adjusting financial aid rules for institutions and expanding rosters in order to ensure teams had space for additional scholarship athletes without forcing them to push away other athletes or incoming recruits. Returning athletes -- namely seniors -- will essentially not count against roster limits.
"It's the point of the NCAA to have our best interests at heart," said Emily Cheramie, a junior athlete in rifle at Nebraska who was one of 60 signees on a statement released late Sunday night by the NCAA Student Athletic Advisory Council.
The SAAC statement urged the NCAA to allow that eligibility and to address "immediate support for housing and food" for athletes still on campus.
"That's why we went over a bunch of people's heads to do this because we didn't know if we were being represented or not, or if the NCAA cares," Cheramie added.
The financial aid flexibility gives schools the option to grant seniors equal or less financial aid than what they would have received in 2019-20. Schools have also been provided with the ability to tap into the NCAA's Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships of athletes returning for an additional year who otherwise would have seen their eligibility exhausted.
The NCAA did not specifically address issues regarding housing and meals for these athletes.
"The council's decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level," said chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Penn, in a statement. "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."
Perhaps never has so much been written about the spring sports affected, including baseball, softball, outdoor track and field, lacrosse, tennis, golf, rowing, men's volleyball, beach volleyball and women's water polo. That's because perhaps never have so many cared.
Those spring athletes became a symbol for a larger discussion: What role do the actual athletes play in what could be a burgeoning financial crisis for college athletics?
Some of that question was answered Monday. The NCAA and schools will absorb some of the costs of returning athletes. USA Today had reported the 62 percent shortfall in tournament revenue would cost the average athletic department $500,000-$900,000.