Good news for local collegians: Utah, BYU, Utah State will welcome back seniors who want to return for extra year
After the coronavirus pandemic cut short the spring sports seasons, the NCAA ruled that seniors can have an additional year of eligibility but said schools can decide whether they will make room for them or ask them to move on
SALT LAKE CITY — Spring sports student-athletes at Utah, BYU and Utah State who would like to take advantage of last month’s NCAA decision — which restored their eligibility next year after their seasons were prematurely ended by the coronavirus shutdown — should feel fortunate.
Athletic department leaders at the state’s three largest schools told the Deseret News recently that they plan to allow back seniors wishing to return for the 2020-21 school year.
That’s significant because not every major college in the country is allowing its seniors to return, let alone provide financial aid at the same level it was providing this current school year. For instance, University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, the school’s former football coach, said last week that due to “a time of unprecedented uncertainty in college athletics” that the Badgers will not allow their seniors to pursue another year.
“What we tried to do was encourage our seniors to go ahead and, if you’re going to graduate, graduate and move on with your life,” Alvarez said on his monthly radio show in Madison, Wisconsin.
The Utes, Cougars and Aggies are taking a different approach, although it will come at a considerable cost.
BYU officials said they are still sorting through the numbers, while Utah athletic director Mark Harlan said on ESPN 700 radio Wednesday that 11 or 12 of the 30 or so affected seniors at Utah will be back next year.
“I am referring to them as our ‘super seniors,’” Harlan said, without detailing what it will cost the school.
Utah State said it will likely be more than $400,000, according to preliminary reports, and has said it will handle each student-athlete’s desires on a case-by-case basis.
Athletic departments across the country, large and small, are feeling a financial crush because after the NCAA basketball tournaments were canceled the NCAA announced it would pay out only $225 million of its projected $600 million annual distribution to Division I schools. There is also a major fear that if the 2020 college football season is shortened or postponed, substantial revenue will also be lost.
An analysis by USA Today projected that bringing back seniors in spring sports would cost Power Five programs anywhere between $500,000 and $900,000. However, those projections appear to be quite high.
While announcing earlier this week that head football coach Nick Rolovich and head men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith will voluntarily take a 5% salary cut through the end of the 2020-21 academic year, Washington State University said “we are estimating an additional $300,000 in athletic grant-in aid costs for FY21.”
“Our coaches are having individual conversations with each senior student-athlete regarding the option to extend eligibility as outlined by the NCAA.” — BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle
Wazzu sponsors seven spring sports and had 46 seniors this spring, according to rosters on the school’s athletics website. By way of comparison, BYU has nine spring sports and 51 seniors, Utah has eight spring sports and 32 seniors and Utah State has six spring sports and 30 seniors.
At all schools, underclassmen and incoming freshmen will not see their scholarships altered, provided they are invited back by the coaches of their respective sports because scholarships are signed on a year-by-year basis.
In announcing its March 30 decision, the NCAA’s executive council said schools have the flexibility to go over the scholarship limit. But it should be noted that of the spring sports, only women’s tennis is a “head count” sport, which means participants receive full scholarships and not partials as they do in baseball, softball, track and field, golf and other spring sports.
“The (NCAA) 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,” said council chair M. Grace Calhoun, Penn’s athletic director.
Here’s a closer look at how Utah, BYU and Utah State are supporting their seniors:
Utah: Having recently added beach volleyball and men’s lacrosse, the Utes are up to eight spring sports but don’t have numbers similar to BYU or WSU because they don’t have men’s track and field, which takes a lot of participants.
“We welcome the seniors in our spring sports to come back and compete again in 2021,” said Utah athletic director Mark Harlan. “Conversations with those seniors are ongoing, with their coaches, and we expect more clarity soon about the individual decisions they are making about their path forward.
“Some have indicated they would like to return and some, having graduated, are electing to move on to new opportunities and begin careers. We support them with whichever choice they make.”
BYU: Largely due to having one of the largest and most successful track and field programs in the country, BYU easily has the biggest athletic program in the state. If all 51 seniors opt to return, the price tag will be hefty for athletic director Tom Holmoe and his staff. However, there is anecdotal evidence that many won’t return, such as golfers Spencer Dunaway, Peter Kuest and Rhett Rasmussen — who will all likely turn professional.
“The answer to your question is yes,” said Duff Tittle, associate athletic director for communication, when asked if BYU will allow its spring sports seniors to return and remain at the same financial aid level they were in 2019-20. “Our coaches are having individual conversations with each senior student-athlete regarding the option to extend eligibility as outlined by the NCAA.”
Tittle said determining an exact number of returnees could take awhile. At least two athletes — softball outfielder Rylee Jensen-McFarland and baseball catcher Abe Valdez — have told the Deseret News they felt like there was unfinished business for them and their classmates when the cancellations came and will do everything they can to return.
Holmoe said in a video address to BYU fans on March 17 that the school would “make things right” for spring sports athletes. He has told several coaches that taking care of those athletes was a priority for his department, and he appears to be delivering on that promise.
Utah State: Athletic director John Hartwell confirmed that USU has 30 seniors among its six spring sports and will work with those who wish to return.
“Some of those are partial scholarships, some of them are full scholarships,” Hartwell said. “The financial impact, if they all came back, would be somewhere in the range of a little over $400,000.”
Hartwell said the vast majority of the 30 seniors are graduating this spring and many are eager to move on with their lives.
“One of the factors that a lot of people haven’t talked about (is) we might have a lot of athletes who pre-COVID-19 had job offers,” he said. “Are those job offers still going to be on the table, based on the economic impact that has occurred? We are trying to be able to quantify it here in the next couple of weeks, but it is so hard to pin them totally down because of all the unknowns out there.”
Like BYU, the majority of USU’s spring sports athletes are in track and field.
Deseret News sportswriters Dirk Facer and Trent Wood contributed to this report.
Utah’s Spring Sports Seniors
BASEBALL: Chase Fernlund, Zach Moeller, Jacob Rebar, Kyle Robeniol
BEACH VOLLEYBALL: McKenna Granato, Tiyana Hallums, Keana Smalls, Lauren Sproule, Kinga Windisch
GOLF: Jordan Costello, Peyton Hastings, Mitchell Schow
LACROSSE: Colin Burke, Aaron Fjeldsted, Seth Neeleman, Jimmy Perkins, James Sexton, Josh Stout, Dan Tracy
MEN’S TENNIS: Azat Hankuliyev, Slava Shainyan
SOFTBALL: Alyssa Barrera, BreOnna Castaneda, Claire Feldman
TRACK & FIELD: Anna Busatto, Caitlin Faust, Sarah Feeny, Nicole Griffiths, Ashley Licata, Brooke Martin, Kolbi Sims
WOMEN’S TENNIS: Whitney Hekking
BYU’s Spring Sports Seniors
BASEBALL: Jarod Lessar, Abraham Valdez, Ben Weese
SOFTBALL: Rylee Jensen-McFarland, Emilee Erickson
MEN’S GOLF: Spencer Dunaway, Peter Kuest, Rhett Rasmussen
WOMEN’S GOLF: Anna Kennedy
MEN’S VOLLEYBALL: Zach Eschenberg, Cyrus Fa’alogo, Miki Jauhiainen, Andrew Lincoln, Wil Stanley
MEN’S TENNIS: David Ball, Sean Hill, Sam Tullis
WOMEN’S TENNIS: Polina Malykh, Moscow, Kate Cusick Truman
MEN’S TRACK: Derek Sorensen, Jesus Serrano, Raul Rios, Porter Reddish, Cade Perry, Jake Peister, Michael Ottesen, Brian Matthews, Jared Lorimier, Jacob Heslington, Talem Franco, Rickey Fantroy Jr., Blake Ellis, Clark Brown, Tomi Adegoke
WOMEN’S TRACK: Lindsay Yetter-Shirley, Courtney Wayment, Elise Romney, Haley Rogers, Lauren Rawlinson, Kyndal Pothier, Whittni Orton, McKenna Neyman, Sydnee Muhlestein, Dailyn Johnson-Tufuga, Courtney Isom, Olivia Hoj, Ellie Heiden-Quackenbush, Emma Gee, Payge Cuthbertson, Anna Camp-Bennett, Erica Birk-Jarvis
Utah State’s Spring Sports Seniors
MEN’S GOLF: Hayden Eckert, Chase Lansford
SOFTBALL: Ryann Holmes, Erin Kuba, Riley Plogger, Allanah Alvarado, Alissa Noble
MEN’S TENNIS: Sergiu Bucur
WOMEN’S TENNIS: Hannah Jones, Lucy Octave
WOMEN’S TRACK: Elli Eastmond, Maia Garren, Grace Gibbons, Josie Givens, Nakyla Jude, Jensen Mosman, Melanie Muncy, Stephanie Wright
MEN’S TRACK: Chad Artist, Luke Beattie, Kyle Brost, Sam Clausnitzer, Garen Early, Sindri Gudmundsson, Adam Hendrickson, Tyler Lloyd, Kyle Morris, Sam Nelson, J.D. Thorne, Oran Wasserman