The NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee on Friday announced it would grant eligibility relief for spring athletes as a result of the unprecedented decision to cancel both its winter and spring championships due to the recent novel coronavirus outbreak. The move effectively grants baseball players an extra season of eligibility to compensate for the lost 2020 season.
The committee said details of the eligibility rule will be finalized “at a later time.” It also acknowledged that additional NCAA rules issues must be addressed in the wake of their decision and said “appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Louisville coach Dan McDonnell, the first vice president of the American Baseball Coaches Association. “Give student-athletes the opportunity to play a season that they lost totally out of their control.”
Granting players an extra year of eligibility is just the first step. Baseball employs a complex set of roster-management rules and figuring out how to effectively fit an extra class of players into that mix will be complicated.
Baseball teams are limited to 35 players on the roster. Of those 35, 27 can be on scholarships. There are 11.7 scholarships to divide among those 27 players and no player can receive less than 25 percent of a scholarship.
That math makes for a very difficult puzzle for the NCAA to solve. Even if it went with the basic method of uncapping the roster and allowing schools extra scholarships, it would still create situations where some teams could have 50-60 players on the roster—something baseball specifically enacted legislation to curb.
There’s also the matter of Ivy League seniors. The conference does not allow graduate students to compete, meaning that if a player still has eligibility remaining when he finishes his undergraduate degree, he must transfer. If limitations are put on roster size and player movement, exceptions must be made for Ivy League players—or the conference will have to at least temporarily lift its ban on graduate students.
Some conferences also have made it clear that they would like to continue playing games if it is possible later in the spring, even if the College World Series has been canceled. The Big 12, SEC and Southland Conference have all be open about that desire and have officially only suspended their seasons. If those conferences restart later this spring, would their players still be eligible for an extra year? And if not, would those schools be bound by whatever exemptions the NCAA creates for roster management? Would that change the decision of any of those conferences to potentially continue games later this spring?
There are still many unanswered questions. But today’s news at least restores the year of eligibility that had been lost due to cancellations this spring.