The NCAA, for once, made a smart call. On Friday, its Division I board of directors signed off on a new deal. On the other hand, the organization hurt other student-athletes from earlier in the year.
The NCAA Division I council voted Wednesday to recommend that all athletes whose fall seasons are being changed because of the coronavirus pandemic get a year of eligibility back. The free year of eligibility is given no matter how much athletes compete the next 10 months.
This is an excellent decision. Student-athletes should get an extra year of eligibility because the coronavirus pandemic will cause delays, cancellations or postponements to their seasons. Student-athletes did not cause COVID-19, so they should not be punished for its chaos.
“We continue to be committed to providing opportunities wherever possible,” said council chairwoman M. Grace Calhoun, the athletic director at Penn.
I commend the board for doing its job and supporting student-athletes. This was a job well done for fall student-athletes, and earlier in the year it was a job well done for spring student-athletes.
However, it’s not a perfect decision.
Although those student-athletes did not get punished for COVID-19’s chaos, other student-athletes did.
I wonder how student-athletes who didn’t receive help from this decision are feeling right now. I’m talking about the winter sport student-athletes, those who play college basketball, swimming and diving, gymnastics and hockey.
The NCAA chose not give another year of eligibility to those sports despite their seasons getting cut short. College basketball was about to play March Madness when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament.
No stage is more fun than the NCAA Tournament. College football, MLB, NBA NFL and other college and professional sports have nothing like the NCAA Tournament. March Madness is the best tournament with its buzzer-beating shots, amazing comebacks and No. 16 seeds upsets.
Why does my love for March Madness matter? Because it is the largest stage for college basketball athletes. After playing a regular season, men and women college basketball players were preparing for conference tournaments and March Madness. These student-athletes had spent so much time competing in the dirt, in the trenches, working the grind, enjoying the ups and learning from the downs to shine on the largest stage.
Then it was taken away from them. It was the right call for safety and health reasons. But the NCAA had a chance to give it back to those student-athletes. Yet, it didn't.
The NCAA’s reasoning?
The Division I council “members declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed,” the NCAA said in a statement.
I understand their viewpoint of having the season basically completed, but I also respectfully disagree.
The NCAA’s core purpose is “to govern competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”
How was this decision fair for winter student-athletes compared to spring and fall student-athletes?
The NCAA ripped apart a chance, or a final chance, for student-athletes who are freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors to play in the NCAA Tournament. March Madness was gone in a blink of an eye.
Additionally, just because you’re not a senior, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to make the NCAA Tournament in any of your following years as a student-athlete.
I do not believe the NCAA is fulfilling the entirety of its core purpose. Winter student-athletes were punished by something out of their control (the coronavirus pandemic), and the NCAA failed to give them a second chance. While the logistics would certainly have been a problem, I think it would have been worth the effort.
Now, the 2020 winter sport student-athletes will be forever known as the class who never got to compete for an NCAA championship.