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NCAA rules to give eligibility relief for student-athletes in spring sports, but not winter sports

The national office of the NCAA in Indianapolis is shown Thursday, March 12, 2020. The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s Division I basketball tournaments amid coronavirus fears on Thursday.
Michael Conroy, AP

SALT LAKE CITY — NCAA Division I student-athletes who compete in spring sports will have an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility, the NCAA Division I Council voted Monday as college athletics have been impacted by the novel conoravirus pandemic.

There won’t be any eligibility relief for student-athletes in winter sports, as the majority of their seasons were completed, the council also announced.

NCAA championships for both winter and spring sports were canceled March 12, as the pandemic began to initially make its impact in the sports world.

Per Division I rules, student-athletes have a five-year period to complete four seasons of competition. Monday’s decision will allow for schools to self-apply waivers that would restore one season of competition for student-athletes who competed during the 2020 spring season that was cut short by COVID-19. Schools may also self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility for student-athletes in spring sports whose five-year “clock” would have ended in 2020.

Financial aid rules were also adjusted to help allow teams to carry more members on scholarship, helping programs accommodate both incoming recruits and student-athletes who wish to return for a final season of eligibility. In addition, the NCAA council increased the roster limit in baseball to accommodate for student-athletes impacted by the COVID-19. It’s the only spring sport with a roster limitation.

In a move to help colleges through the financial uncertainty ahead, the NCAA council’s vote gives schools the flexibility of allowing students whose eligibility would have run out this year to return for the 2020-21 season “without requiring that athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20.” That only applies to student-athletes whose eligibility was set to expire this season.

The NCAA’s Student Assitance Fund will also be available for schools to use to help pay for scholarships of student-athletes who choose to extend their eligibility into next season.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Penn, 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.”

Spring season sports like baseball and softball were still competing in the opening weeks of their 2020 seasons when play was canceled. In men’s volleyball, the regular season was more than half over, and BYU had risen to No. 1 in the nation just days before the season was canceled.

Winter sports like men’s and women’s basketball had completed their regular seasons with many conferences in the middle of league tournaments when the NCAA Tournament was canceled.