It’s not as easy as it seems.
The NCAA Division I Council will hold an online meeting today and is scheduled to discuss the possibility of giving an extra year of collegiate eligibility to the thousands of Division I student-athletes from coast to coast who had their spring sports seasons canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 40-member group is also expected to discuss that same possibility for winter sports athletes who completed the majority of the seasons but had postseason competition canceled.
They’ll discuss a recommendation from the Division I Council Coordination Committee made on March 13 that eligibility relief is given to spring sports participants, giving those student-athletes an additional year of eligibility.
On the surface, that’s an easy call but the reality is a little more complex.
Placing this year’s seniors on scholarship, even a partial scholarship, for an additional year in all spring sports would cost athletic departments at the power-five level an estimated $750,000.
At Iowa, student-athletes in men’s and women’s track and field, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s golf and rowing are impacted.
But, the complexities extend beyond dollars and cents.
Roster limitations come into play at a time when many coaches have already filled many if not all scholarships for the 2020-21 school year.
Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller illustrates the challenges that exist in a sport that does not offer its student-athletes full scholarships.
The NCAA limits baseball programs to the equivalent of 11.7 scholarships which can be split up in a multitude of ways between 27 student-athletes.
Programs are allowed to carry an additional eight players on their roster who do not receive dollars from baseball’s scholarship allotment, creating a roster of 35 players.
“Baseball is really difficult every year, trying to manage with so many uncontrollables,’’ Heller said during a teleconference last week. “But at the end of the day, it has to add up to 11.7, 27 and 35.
“That’s the question, if we’re going to give eligibility back, then we have to make the concession with those numbers. That’s the issue the council is going to have to come to grips with.’’
Heller has 10 seniors on his roster this year.
In the weeks since the Iowa season was canceled on March 12, Heller has talked informally with Hawkeye seniors.
Mostly, he wanted to get a feel for what level of interest seniors would have to return for an additional year of eligibility and he encouraged those players to begin discussions with their families who ultimately would be funding the majority of an additional year of college.
He suspects players who believe they have a future in-game might opt to return while others, nearing completion of degree work, may choose to enter the workforce and move forward with professional careers outside of baseball.
“We have some players who were working toward graduation and getting on to the next phase in their life,’’ Heller said.
Major League Baseball’s plan to shift its free-agent draft from early June to July and trim it from 40 rounds to five with signing bonuses for undrafted free agents capped at $20,000 will impact things as well.
Three Hawkeye seniors, pitcher Grant Judkins, catcher Austin Martin, and outfielder Ben Norman, are regarded as draft prospects but where they would fit into the proposed changed draft structure is undetermined.
“If they get drafted, they’re going to sign,’’ Heller said. “If that doesn’t happen, they would love to come back, I’m sure. Everyone is kind of waiting to see what happens.’’
Add to all that a group of incoming freshmen and others who have signed letters of intent to join the Hawkeyes in the fall and the numbers become even more challenging.
That’s one reason Heller doesn’t believe an extra year of eligibility is a slam-dunk decision.
“It’s really messy. I’m still worried that maybe it won’t (pass). It might not, once they get in the room and they start to see how many pieces of the puzzle have to go this way or that way, how the scholarships are going to have to be adjusted,’’ he said.
“You can’t just say you’re going to give eligibility back and then expect coaches to maintain their 35-man roster and the 27 on scholarship and all that, because you’ve already got 10 guys coming to replace your 10 seniors.’’
Many of those incoming players have already been told what portion of a scholarship they will receive, perhaps tuition, perhaps room and board, perhaps books or perhaps a combination of those things in one form or another.
“Those guys have questions about how things will impact them,’’ Heller said. “Until we get some answers from the NCAA, we don’t really know.’’
Heller said he has worked with other coaches and with Iowa director of athletics Gary Barta to get as much information as possible in the hands of NCAA Council members who will ultimately make the decisions.
“Right now, we’re dealing with a lot of rumors and guesswork,’’ Heller said. “I think we’ll all feel a lot more comfortable once we have some facts to work with.’’