NCAA open to 'grant relief' to athletes who lost season due to cancellation over coronavirus


The NCAA is open to “grant relief for the use of a season” for Division I student athletes in spring sports who had their seasons canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also discussing what to do about athletes in winter sports “who were unable to participate in conference and NCAA championships.”

In a letter to the membership on Thursday obtained by Yahoo Sports, the NCAA’s Division I council coordination committee both expressed an openness for the athletes to get their seasons back and acknowledged all of the complications that would go with such a decision.

“There is a lot to consider for the coordination committee in the coming days and weeks,” NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn told Yahoo Sports.

The NCAA’s letter is by no means a blanket issuing of extra eligibility for participants in spring and winter sports. It’s rather an open path to something eventually happening. Multiple high-ranking officials stressed to Yahoo Sports on Friday that there’s still a lot of work to be done.  

Amid the flurry of closings and cancellations this week, the prospect of NCAA seniors in spring and winter sports having their seasons suddenly halted pierced hearts around the American sporting landscape. The NCAA council coordination committee issuing this letter marks an important step, as the possibility of restoring eligibility was both an unusually quick move by the NCAA and an acknowledgement of the human element.

“The committee recognizes that student-athletes are making life decisions that will be helped by understanding whether an additional season of competition would be available, and as such, will work in a timely manner to make informed decisions,” the NCAA letter said.

General view of a Wilson basketball with the March Madness logo before the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament. (Photo: USA TODAY Sports)

But there’s still a lot of red tape to cut. In the case of spring sports, few of which are significant revenue drivers, there’s finding the money for the cost of scholarships. This is difficult at schools that have the revenue from major college football and basketball, but much more difficult at smaller schools in non-revenue sports. The notion of the NCAA covering these costs at hundreds of schools is naïve, especially with the organization facing its own financial questions from the cancellation of the NCAA tournament. (The NCAA tournament provides the revenue that accounts for more than 90 percent of the NCAA’s operating budget.)

And there are some math issues. The scholarship money used by seniors is already allotted to incoming freshmen in many cases. The other math problem comes with scholarship restrictions, as rosters would be exponentially bigger to accommodate the players who’ve earned an extra season along with the incoming athletes.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski advocated for some relief for the spring sports. 

"I feel extremely bad for the spring sports,” he said in a video message released by Duke. “They're never even able to have a season. These are very difficult times. I would hope that there would be some relief, at least for the spring sports that people would be granted an extra year of eligibility, that the seniors would be able to come back and scholarship limits would be flexible in that regard."

In a press release, the NCAA said that “details will be announced at a later time.” The NCAA added: “Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks.”

The NCAA also said in the letter that there’s a recruiting ban effective immediately until at least April 15, when they’ll re-evaluate.

“Based on the immediate effective date, reasonable measures should be taken to cease all recruiting activities that are not permissible during a dead period [e.g., official and unofficial visits, contacts and evaluations],” the letter stated.

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