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BYU coaches and former athletes react to NCAA’s recruiting ban, plan to grant spring sports athletes another year of eligibility

A day after canceling March Madness, the NCAA says coaches cannot recruit in person until at least April 15, but seems ready to give seniors in spring sports their year back

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BYU’s Tim Dobbert, Wil Stanley and Joseph Grosh celebrate after point as BYU and Long Beach State play volleyball in Provo on Friday, March 24, 2017. Stanley, a senior on this year’s No. 1-ranked team, says he will return next year if the NCAA will let him after canceling the season on Thursday.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

PROVO — A day after the NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s national basketball tournaments and halted all spring sports in the middle of their seasons to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the governing body for most of the country’s college athletics programs issued more statements clarifying what coaches and student-athletes can expect in the future.

Regarding recruiting, the NCAA on Friday banned in-person recruiting for Division I coaches and advised schools to suspend official and unofficial visits until at least April 15. 

Also Friday, the NCAA announced potential eligibility relief for athletes who participate in spring sports such as baseball, softball and track and field. Details about specifics will be finalized at a later time, the NCAA said.

It also said it will “discuss issues” for winter-sport student-athletes who had finished or were close to finishing their seasons — most notably basketball players such as BYU’s Yoeli Childs, Zac Seljaas and TJ Haws who were looking forward to playing in the Big Dance for the first time, but now cannot.

“We spend a lot of time (recruiting). If it turns out that we have to do it by coming up with some ridiculously absurd and creative ways to do video conferences, then we’ll do it better than anybody else in the country.” — BYU basketball coach Mark Pope

BYU basketball coach Mark Pope was anticipating the recruiting ban as he addressed the media hours after the tournament cancellation and was already thinking about contingency plans.

“If that happened, then clearly we’re going to abide by those rules. Recruiting is really, really important,” Pope said. “We spend a lot of time doing it. If it turns out that we have to do it by coming up with some ridiculously absurd and creative ways to do video conferences, then we’ll do it better than anybody else in the country.”

The Division I Council Coordination Committee will evaluate the situation on April 15 to see if the ban should be lifted or be continued, it said in a news release. Telephone calls and written correspondence are allowed during what the NCAA is calling a “dead period.”

There are numerous “dead periods” throughout the year, though they occur at different times for different sports.

Because of that, former BYU assistant basketball coach Tim LaComb said the recruiting ban is not a big deal right now, at least for basketball coaches. The week of the Final Four is a dead period, anyway, he said.

“It just won’t allow for visits ... but most of what BYU is doing can take place after that,” LaComb said. “It is probably a bigger deal for this (current) staff in the grad-transfer area.”

He said the ban will only take away about two weeks of recruiting when all is said and done.

The potential for student-athletes in spring sports to get their year back is of much greater interest along the college sports spectrum.

“If I get the opportunity, I will be back! We got some unfinished business to take care of,” tweeted BYU volleyball star Wil Stanley, a key figure on the Cougars’ No. 1-ranked squad that was a favorite to win that sport’s national championship in May until Thursday’s news changed everything.

Because of the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, there has been a lot of attention on the eligibility of players on basketball teams that won’t be able to finish their seasons. Basketball is considered a winter sport and the NCAA has not addressed whether or not those athletes will be considered for eligibility relief. 

Pope would like to see the seniors on his team have the option of returning for one more season. The Cougars were considered a lock to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“I do suspect that I do have a large group of seniors on this team that have fought so hard for this and they still have a boatload of fight in them,” Pope said. “If the NCAA saw fit to grant them another shot at this, which seems potentially like the only just or fair thing to do, then I think we’d have some guys that would be really, really excited about that.”

A BYU baseball spokesperson said Friday that “everyone is still getting their ducks in a row and coaches are juggling a lot right now” so the school did not make coach Mike Littlewood or any players available for comment.

However, former BYU baseball player Jackson Cluff, who was selected in the sixth round of last June’s major league baseball draft by the Washington Nationals and is currently participating in the club’s spring training workouts in West Palm Beach, Florida, said he spoke with several of his former teammates Thursday and they were devastated.

“Man, I am so disappointed for them,” Cluff said. “I put myself in their shoes and it is just so depressing. They are crushed by this, as I am sure all college athletes are. ... I would have never thought something like this would happen. A lot of people are saying it feels like we are in a movie or something. It seems like the whole country has shut down.”

Cluff said giving seniors their of eligibility back is the least the NCAA could do after making such a life-altering decision.

“At BYU, I think a lot of the seniors will come back, or take the year back, just because education is tied to it and (coaches there) emphasize education so much,” he said. “People at BYU are always looking to finish their degree or perhaps go for a higher degree.”

However, Cluff said he can’t blame others who “want to move on with their lives” and will leave wondering what might have been if they were able to play out their final seasons.

“I think a majority of athletes, especially if they don’t have family or a job lined up or marriage or other reasons like that, will stay and give it one more shot,” he said. “Baseball is a bit different (because players can be drafted but still return to school), but a lot of people will want to stay and finish their last year of eligibility.”