The NCAA did something right for once

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While we are amidst a global pandemic, one that has shaken the foundation of day-to-day life for millions of Americans, the NCAA showed its human side when it announced Monday that all student athletes in spring sports would be granted another year of eligibility. 

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It’s an unprecedented event so you have to take unprecedented measures
— Geno Auriemma – Sports Center

I guess the committee decided to listen to UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma when he called for an extra year of eligibility after both the men’s and women’s tournaments were cancelled.

“My feeling is this: It’s an unprecedented event so you have to take unprecedented measures,” Auriemma told SportsCenter.

While Auriemma’s Huskies and Dan Hurley’s men’s squad, as well as their seniors, will have to live with seasons unfinished, the spring sports will be allowed to welcome back those who were previously set to run out of eligible playing years.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun and athletics director at Penn, said in an article released by the NCAA. “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.”

Like anything else in our current situation, there are a ton of questions that follow, and a lot have to do with the financials. How does this impact scholarships? Can schools afford this? What does this mean for transfers? 

The NCAA provided some answers.

In the article, the NCAA will allow schools to use the Student Assistance Fund to help pay for scholarships for returning seniors. They are, however, not requiring schools to provide athletic aid at the same level as they had this season.

“There is going to be big-time budget implications,” UConn baseball coach Jim Penders told the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore. “We’re trying to find out who would be able to come back, first, if they had to pay what they paid last year, can they do it? And then, if so, this is what it’s going to cost, can we do it?”

The UConn baseball team ignited the 2020 campaign with a number of impressive wins, but spring sports were cancelled across the university before they could play the inaugural game at Elliot Ballpark against Seton Hall, a future conference foe when the Huskies make their highly anticipated return to the Big East at the start of the 2020 school year.

A potent lineup and bullpen carried seven seniors this season, all of which will be welcomed back to play another season, assuming the financials work out. Amore also wrote that 11.7 scholarships are divided amongst baseball teams (spring sports get less scholarships than other sports), which left UConn 1.7 to spread across the senior class. According to Amore, the Huskies will have roughly 13.4 to play with next year.

One, or a part, of those scholarships can go to senior captain Chris Winkel. Winkel’s love and talent for the game could carry him to the pros, but the student of UConn’s business school has his eye on graduate school as well. Another year with the Huskies would give him one more season to play alongside his younger brother, Pat, who was going to miss the entire 2020 season while he recovers from elbow surgery.

Baseball was not the lone sport impacted either. Seniors from tennis, golf, outdoor track, women’s lacrosse and softball will have a decision to make. Under first-year head coach Laura Valentino, the Huskies got off to a 16-5 start with six seniors making big contributions to a season they will never see finished.

But at least the NCAA gave them a choice.

The “non-profit organization” that raked in over $867 million in 2019 thanks to the hard work of student athletes has not always acted with them in mind. Students lose full seasons of eligibility thanks to stubborn and not always accommodating transfer rules. Just ask UConn’s Sidney Wilson and Evina Westbrook of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

There’s also the ongoing debate of whether student-athletes should be paid. This is a big and complicated issue that is best saved for another time, but no athlete should have to complain about going hungry the way former Husky Shabazz Napier did en route to a national championship. 

This decision finally showed the NCAA had the athletes in mind. There are still questions to answer, mostly by individual schools, and tough decisions will be made. How will they allocate these resources? Do incoming recruits want to sit behind a now returning senior? These answers will come to light eventually, while the world’s focus remains on fighting this virus and working to return to normalcy.

Similar to the Grinch, the NCAA’s heart appears to be two sizes too small at times. There’s still room to improve, but Monday’s decision showed that it can indeed grow.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of @UConnHuskies on Twitter.

Related Content:

UConn cancels all spring sports

Baseball: UConn’s season in danger of cancellation


Kevin Arnold is the associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.arnold@uconn.edu. He tweets @karnold98.

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