The COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 spring sports calendar across college athletics, and no athlete will lose a year of college athletics for it.
The NCAA’s Division I Council, in a Monday vote, granted all spring sport athletes an additional year of eligibility to make up for the one taken away by cancellations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools may use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for athletes who use the additional eligibility, but schools also have the freedom to provide less scholarship aid to seniors who are coming back for an additional season. Underclassman athletes are not affected by that clause.
“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Council chair and Penn athletics director M. Grace Calhoun said 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.”
The freedom to offer less than original scholarship aid from the previous season means some athletes could be put in a position where they can no longer afford college for the additional year they have been granted.
At the University of Alabama, it means 67 senior student-athletes have a chance to resume their careers. The seven softball seniors — outfielders Alexis Mack and Elissa Brown, infielders Taylor Clark, Bailey Hemphill, Claire Jenkins and pitchers Sarah Cornell and Krystal Goodman— all previously expressed their interest in returning for the 2021 season if given the opportunity. The baseball team can get back as many as nine seniors: pitcher Kyle Cameron, utility man Brett Auerbach, pitcher Casey Cobb, catcher Johnny Hawk, outfielder Walker McCleney, shortstop Kolby Robinson, pitcher Dylan Oliver, pitcher William Freeman and position player Justin King.
Baseball is the lone spring sport with a roster size limitation. The Council expanded the roster size from its original 35, but did not specify the new roster limit.
It also potentially extends the career of men’s golfer Jake DeZoort and women’s golfer Kenzie Wright, plus three men’s tennis players (Alexey Nesterov, Edson Ortiz and Zhe Zhou) and four women’s tennis players (Alba Cortina Pou, Luca Fabian, Jacqueline Pelletier and Ann Selim). There are also 15 seniors on the women’s track and field team, 10 on the men’s team and 17 seniors on the rowing team.
The extra year of eligibility does not extend to winter sport athletes, meaning the seniors for UA men’s basketball, women’s basketball, gymnastics, swimming and diving and indoor track and field teams will never get another chance at the postseason that was taken away from them by the pandemic. That means James “Beetle” Bolden cannot return to the men’s basketball team and the trio of Amber Richardson, Cierra Johnson and Ashley Knight cannot return to the women’s team, despite Bolden missing both the SEC Tournament and potential postseason after that. UA completed its SEC Tournament run but was likely to receive a spot in the WNIT.
Swimming and diving has eight seniors, three men and five women, who cannot come back despite missing their respective NCAA Championships:
The same can be said for three gymnasts: Wynter Childers, Maddie Desch and Shea Mahoney.