The NCAA has spoken — and it will not be granting another year of eligibility to winter athletes whose seasons were cut short due to the coronavirus. The NCAA Div. 1 Council decided against giving winter athletes more eligibility because those athletes had completed their full regular seasons.
Prior to the final decision, there were rumors that perhaps the NCAA would rule in favor of winter athletes. Many well-known winter athletes were posting on their social media accounts calling for another year. This is largely because the biggest concern for many of the winter athletes was not the regular season, but the inability to complete their NCAA championships, something many athletes use as a benchmark for career-long goals.
Notably, the skiing championship was in the middle of competition in Montana when it was stopped after two-race days for the Nordic and alpine athletes. The news hits especially hard for senior athletes who did not get to finish their final season on their own terms.
”As a senior with a career-long goal of competing in an NCAA Championship, I was of course heartbroken at the NCAAs decision,” said senior skier Riley Whitney of St. Lawrence University.
The NCAA is, however, granting another year of eligibility to spring-sport athletes who did not have the chance to start their seasons at all. The NCAA is ultimately leaving the decision up to the schools.
“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said Council Chair M. Grace Calhoun. “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.”
But not even springs athletes are able to come back easily, one athletics division, The Ivy League, is making it extremely difficult. The Ivy League is standing by their own league’s rules, stating that only undergraduate students may participate in NCAA sports.
“After a number of discussions surrounding the current circumstances, the Ivy League has decided the league’s existing eligibility policies will remain in place, including its longstanding practice that athletic opportunities are for undergraduates,” the league said in a statement.
This makes it more difficult for seniors whose seasons were cut short to return for their extra year of eligibility since they cannot come back as graduate students for a fifth year.
As for skiing, this decision confirms that there will be no 2020 NCAA Championship team, and no slalom champions. And as suspected, the 2020 seniors will be graduating with their seasons suddenly truncated.
“It was an unexpected and unfortunate end to the season and the championship. I was hoping for our team to win the NCAA title and for getting another year of eligibility,” said Eirin Engeset of the University of Utah. “I did not think winter sports would be fortunate enough to get another since we were at the end of the season, but I would have taken another year, if I could.”
While it has been an abrupt end to the collegiate the season, the skiers realize that it is for the health of the athletes.
“I understand they had to take really rapid action as the health and safety of athletes is paramount and as a large governing body of athletics in the US, many other smaller entities may have been encouraged to make responsible decisions on the NCAAs,” said Whitney.
As the rest of the sports world is on pause during the pandemic, winter sports will have to set their sights on the 2021 season.