By Dylan Manfre
The NCAA did the right thing here.
Weird to say, but it did. Giving spring-sport student-athletes an extra year of eligibility after the cancellation of the winter championships and remainder of the spring season was the right decision.
The Division I Council voted on March 30 to allow schools to “provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility.”
Unfortunately, the winter-sport student-athletes will not have this opportunity to salvage the remainder of their seasons because most of their seasons were completed or the team was playing in a postseason tournament, which was eventually canceled.
Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Commissioner Rich Ensor made the somber announcement of the cancellation of the spring season on March 12 during the conference basketball tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
He also said that he personally feels something should have been done for the winter sports, but that “the MAAC itself feels by in large they have completed their eligibility.”
One day later, the NCAA said: “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.”
The formal vote for the blanket waiver came on March 30.
When senior mid-distance runner Mike Mazzei heard the news that the spring season was being canceled, the decision to return was a no-brainer for him.
“I knew for a fact I was going to come back next year,” Mazzei said over the phone. “I knew I was going for my master’s here so… it was an instant response. I couldn’t let [track and field] go.”
Mazzei is one of eight seniors on the track and field team who now have the opportunity to come back for an extra year of eligibility. Part of why the decision was easy for him is because of Head Coach Bob Hamer’s tutelage.
“To have another year of his training and to go into spring track [next year] I feel I’ll be the best I’ve ever been as a runner,” Mazzei said. “I really enjoy the team and being around them.”
Senior pitcher Elyse Cuttic does plan to use the extra year of eligibility, however, it will not be at Rider. She wants to pursue her Master’s Degree in Sports Management but Rider does not have a program for that. She said she had just got off the phone with Head Coach Davon Ortega prior to being interviewed.
“I’ve kind of been torn,” Cuttic said over a FaceTime call. “At a certain point, I knew softball was done and I was kind of accepting that throughout the season and just be OK with it, but once this hit I was like ‘Wait, I kind of want to do this again,’ so it’s torn me in two different ways to pursue solely education or pursue something I love and education.”
According to the NCAA’s announcement, “the Council vote also provides schools with the flexibility to give students the opportunity to return for 2020-21 without requiring that athletics aid be provided at the same level awarded for 2019-20.”
This essentially means the institutions reserve the right to keep the same aid to a student-athlete, lessen the amount or strip the aid completely for the extra season. The spring sports are considered “equivalency sports” meaning a small portion of athletes have full scholarships.
“That obviously puts coaches, athletic departments in a difficult position because what happens is we’ve already recruited with our allotment going forward for next year,” Hamer said. “There’s an additional amount of resources we weren’t intending to spend with people coming back.”
Additionally, the athlete needs to be a full-time student (12 credits) in order to be eligible for the extension. There are complications to this ruling which Rider Athletic Director Don Harnum acknowledged.
“It’s easy to just say ‘Well, everybody gets an extra year,’ but you have challenges of how do you fund that,” Harnum said. “Most of our teams signed kids early so now you have roster-management issues. It comes with some complications.”
Harnum stressed that at the surface this is a good ruling and felt a “needed to be made,” and “it is wrong to assume that everyone wants to come back.”
“It has to be mutual on both the part of the athlete and the coach that it is a good thing to come back,” Harnum said. “A lot of it may depend on what type of role they had on the team, what role they’ll have in the future and the ability of schools to afford it.”
Hamer said that there are some student-athletes who would “love to come back,” but cannot afford it financially.”
This is still a complex issue but the consensus is the NCAA did the right thing.
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