NCAA approves extra year of eligibility for spring athletes

Coach Tillman reacts to NCAA's spring eligibility extension (1:24)

Maryland lacrosse coach John Tillman reveals that coaches around the NCAA were surprised that spring athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility. (1:24)

The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to grant an extra year of eligibility to all student-athletes in spring sports whose seasons were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA's decision will extend the eligibility of all spring-sport student-athletes -- not just seniors whose careers would have ended after the cancellation of their seasons -- and will allow schools to expand their rosters beyond current scholarship limits to account for incoming recruits and seniors who were expected to leave.

The NCAA will leave it up to each school to decide whether to grant seniors in spring sports less or equal financial aid next year, compared to what they received this year. The NCAA said in a statement that the financial aid flexibility applies only to student-athletes who would have exhausted their eligibility in 2019-20.

The waivers will be applied for student-athletes competing in spring sports: baseball, softball, tennis, golf, outdoor track and field, lacrosse, rowing, men's volleyball, beach volleyball and women's water polo. The decision does not include winter sports such as basketball, hockey, swimming and diving, and gymnastics.

"The council's decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level," said Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletic director at the University of Pennsylvania. "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."

The council also increased the roster limit in baseball, the only spring sport with such a limit, for student-athletes impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What spring programs must weigh now is how to disperse scholarships -- as well as roster spots and playing time -- knowing that, with freshman classes on their way in from high schools, teams will have more players at their disposal next year than they are accustomed to.

Maryland men's lacrosse coach John Tillman was a guest on SportsCenter on Monday, and he spoke with Scott Van Pelt about that issue. From the standpoint of giving players another shot at glory, he said, this decision is terrific. But it gets confusing after that.

"You build those strong relationships, so you're excited for them to potentially have another opportunity," Tillman said. "But we're in uncharted waters here. There are a lot of things that need to be talked through and worked out. We're going to have to have some conversations, not only within our university but within our conference, to kind of figure out where we go from here."

Lacrosse, like many spring sports, doesn't typically feature the scholarship allotment to fill an entire roster. As such, players and their families will have to decide if another year of eligibility is worth it financially.

"You're talking about potentially having two freshman classes. That's something that certainly we would have to work through," Tillman said. "I'm not sure that every family has budgeted for five years of lacrosse. We only have 12.6 scholarships that we divide up amongst our players, so it's very rare that someone is going to school for free.

"There's some families that are going to have to make some decisions. There's a lot more to it."

The NCAA board of governors voted unanimously on Thursday to distribute $225 million -- less than half of what it previously budgeted -- to Division I schools in June, following the cancellation of its basketball tournaments and other winter and spring championships because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The NCAA had planned to distribute about $600 million, with the first distribution scheduled for April.

Last week, NCAA president Mark Emmert expressed concern about schools being able to incur the additional scholarship costs in the current economic environment.

"The next 12 months are going to be extremely hard on a lot of colleges and universities, especially small colleges that aren't going to have tuition revenue," Emmert said. "They're going to have high costs because they sent their students away, but they still have all of their costs. They're not going to have any revenue from their endowments because of the crash of the stock market. The revenue from the tournaments isn't going to be there, and the revenue from us is unlikely to be as big as it has been in the past.

"So then to turn around and say, 'By the way, we're going to increase the cost of your student-athletics program,' that's a challenge. For the big schools that are the high-revenue institutions, that's a whole different deal. You have to remember that college sports is, of course, something 1,100 different schools do, and the business models for all of them are very different."