Photo Credit: Hofstra Men’s Basketball
Throughout the week, many student-athletes’ careers ended early. Their dreams shut down. The curtain on their college career closed during the final act. In some cases, the proper send-off the athletes deserved was might not come.
Amidst the global spread of COVID-19, a strand of coronavirus labeled a global health pandemic by the World Health Organization, the NCAA announced that they would be canceling both their winter and spring competitions.
The sports impacted by this unprecedented decision include both men’s and women’s basketball, track & field, baseball, and softball, among others.
In an earlier piece, I praised the NCAA’s decision to suspend operations. Preventing the spread of COVID-19 had to be their top priority, and waiting until the patient zero opened up unnecessary, preventable risks.
Swan Song Cancellation
Unfortunately, this decision has its losers. No longer are student-athletes able to participate in sports. For seniors, their careers came to an unceremonious end.
Florida State softball player Elizabeth Mason published a Change.org petition to reverse the NCAA’s decision from “canceling” the spring tournaments to “suspended until further notice” – a designation that would open up the possibility of playing those tournaments if possible. As of writing, the petition has been signed over 28,000 times.
Unless the NCAA chooses to follow Mason’s recommendation, the decision to cancel spring tournaments means that some student-athletes’ career has ended way too prematurely.
Collegiate baseball teams have played less than 20 games this season. With the cancellation of their tournaments, and, in some cases, their entire season, the seniors barely got a senior year to both improve their draft stock to MLB teams, while being honored for their contributions to their teams on Senior Day.
There is no easy solution to these problems, but the NCAA has found a solution for some of these seniors.
On Friday, March 13, the NCAA announced in a statement that they approved eligibility relief for spring athletes. Although the details are not clear at this point, the premise seems simple. Student-athletes who participate in spring sports will be granted relief on this season’s eligibility, likely in the way of an added year of eligibility for every player. This would, in theory, make four-year seniors this season a fifth-year senior next season.
— NCAA (@NCAA) March 12, 2020
The logistics of this idea makes it a tough situation to navigate. Some athletes, like those participating with Ivy League schools or those in DII or DIII, are not on full athletic scholarships. In the case of these athletes, an extra year would have to come out of pocket, which won’t be possible for some student-athletes. These seniors may also have jobs lined up outside of college, preventing their ability to play their extra eligibility year.
Even if a collegiate player is on scholarship, problems continue to be presented. How will these schools fit in these seniors into their scholarship budget with incoming freshmen?
Only Part of the Solution
There is no clear solution to this situation. As a country, we’re facing an unprecedented situation in sports. There are no collegiate sports in the United States, the careers of the seniors are in a dark zone, and the future is unknown.
Even if the solution isn’t 100 percent clear, allowing eligibility relief solves the biggest problem. Should the athletes choose to continue their collegiate careers, they’ll have the option to continue it. If they choose not to, granting the opportunity is all the NCAA can hope for. Even if the idea has plenty of wrinkles to iron out, the NCAA has time and the resources to solve it. They can figure out the logistics and let some college seniors play a true final season.
Changing the wording from “canceled” to “suspended until further notice”, like Elizabeth Mason mentioned, might grant the slim chance of a tournament this season. Without a clear timetable of when the threat of COVID-19 fades, the status of the tournaments remains in flux.
There is no one way to handle this. The NCAA, like the other major American leagues, are in uncharted waters. There is no precedent, no prior cases. No one expected the season to end early. But here we are. But I believe we should, if at all possible, let the kids play.