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Extra Eligibility for Spring Sports OK'd — If There Are Spring Sports Next Year

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Last week’s announcement by the NCAA allowing spring athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic carries some differences between Divisions I and II.

Division I athletes in winter sports, such as basketball, had their seasons cut short as COVID-19 increased in severity just as postseason play was beginning. Spring sports were canceled very early into their schedules. In Division II, the winter programs had already concluded both regular season and postseason tournaments.

After the announcement was made about D-1, it came out and clarified its ruling about Division-II – where the University of West Florida plays.

“The spring sports for UWF would be baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, [and] men’s and women’s golf,” said UWF athletics director Dave Scott.

He says one difference in the two divisions is their eligibility time frames.

“Division I is on a five-year clock; once the clock starts you have to finish; Division II is actually on a ten-semester basis,” Scott said. “And it’s about how you roll through those semesters.”

In Division-II, a couple of things have to happen: the NCAA allows season of competition waivers for spring sports, if certain criteria are met. You have to be eligible in the spring, and your season had to have been canceled due to coronavirus.

“The other piece to that legislation is an extension,” said Scott. “If you are a senior and your 10 semesters were coming to a close you could get an additional two semesters for the year 2021 only, if you needed them.”

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Dave Scott, Athletics Director, University of West Florida.

Another consideration involving those returning for an extra spring is dividing up scholarships. Scott says to the best of his knowledge, they will not count against the equivalency -- there is no restriction on how many athletes can be on scholarship, but there is a limit on the number of scholarships a team can have.

“You really will have to evaluate your financial situation for each sport; obviously you’ll probably give an emphasis on people that need to graduate,” Scott said. “For us, we’ve got six sports that we’ll have to go in and look at those on a case-by-case basis, and try to do the best that you can.”

Student-athletes who decide to transfer to another school can do so with their extra year, but Scott says the transfer would count against his or her new school’s equivalency, or full-time scholarships.

“In baseball, you can only have nine of those, scattered across probably 30 guys,” said Scott. If he stays at his institution his financial aid would not count against the equivalency, but if he transfers to another institution he still gets his eligibility, but all of a sudden his aid would now count against that school.”

But the extra eligibility issue could be moot, if the coronavirus pandemic stretches into late summer-early fall. Then the question is: would there be college sports in 2020-2021? UWF’s Dave Scott says, that’s a tough one.

“I hope we come out of this and come back to normalcy; but there’s a conversation about, what about next flu season – how would that impact what’s going on? Every day I think it’s one day at a time and you’re making the best decision you can for now.”

The NCAA has also imposed a recruiting dead period through April 15, banning all on-campus visits for recruits and off-campus recruiting travel for coaches.