COVID-19 Creates Eligibility Uncertainty for Student-Athletes

Photo by Chelsey Norton

The National Collegiate Athletic Association recently cancelled all spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are many unanswered questions that have to be solved. Perhaps the biggest question is in regards to seniors across the country that could lose their final year of eligibility.

An NCAA committee is voting on eligibility for winter and spring athletes March 30, but this is an unprecedented situation that likely will not be easy to solve.

The simple answer would be to give all the players who would be graduating the eligibility for one more year. This solution, however, is much more complicated when it is broken down.

If the NCAA were to allow these seniors the ability to play another year, this would be the first time there could be student-athletes who were not enrolled in college. These players would have the advantage of only being an athlete without the everyday responsibilities of being a student.

Money, of course, is another issue. The NCAA already recently cut $375 million worth of payouts to schools. Would this mean those players on scholarship now lose that money because of the NCAA’s rule about not paying college athletes? Or is there a possibility for the NCAA to give these players a special commission because of these unprecedented circumstances? 

There are many more outside issues that would have to be solved if these players were given an extra year of eligibility.

For starters, how would the NCAA classify every other athlete that is not a senior?

The NCAA would have to come up with a plan for all other athletes that would still be eligible for the 2021 spring semester. Not only would they have to decide on the classification for all other athletes, but it also changes from sport to sport. 

Basketball finished the regular season and was playing conference tournaments. That means the players were only unable to participate in the postseason, but teams that did not advance to the postseason technically concluded their year.

Baseball and softball is a different scenario. The two sports had just begun conference play and were not far into the regular season. This situation is less complicated since less than half the season had been played. 

There are still other factors that have to be accounted for.

The biggest one that comes to mind is how will all other players be classified? The NCAA would seemingly either have to have those seniors lose their full eligibility or would have to give everyone else another year. They cannot just give one class the eligibility but then all the juniors from the year before only have one year left for their college career.

This would also affect transfers, injured and redshirt students. 

The NCAA would have to decide whether these players have to sit out another year in order to play, or if they would be given a pass and be able to play in the next season or potentially not play at all in the case of injuries that would have sidelined their final year anyway.

In a waiver from March 20, a committee supported the idea of allowing individual schools to make their own decisions regarding eligibility relief, but there needs to be some overarching guidelines that the NCAA institutes. 

These are unprecedented times that have created complicated, problematic situations that must be figured out. For the NCAA, this is an issue that will be interesting to follow and watched closely by student-athletes, coaches, and fans all around the nation. 

Watch our website and Twitter @HoustonianSport for a follow-up article soon that summarizes the NCAA committee’s decision(s) regarding student-athlete eligibility from the March 30 meeting.

Leave a Reply