NCAA eligibility for winter athletes remains in question

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Amid the coronavirus pandemic last week, the NCAA made the decision to cancel all championship events and the remainder of NCAA seasons for winter and spring sports. 

This drastic, but appropriate, move by the NCAA unfortunately cost many athletes a whole season for spring sports — and for winter athletes, it stripped them of the opportunity to compete in their championship events and complete their collegiate careers. For skiing, this announcement was made in the middle of the NCAA Championships in Montana.

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Since the decision by the NCAA, there has been an outcry from athletes and coaches disappointed that seniors did not have the opportunity to finish their collegiate careers, and there have been calls for the NCAA to grant another year of eligibility to these athletes. It was then announced that the spring sport athletes who lost an entire season will in fact be granted another season of eligibility, but no decision has yet been made for winter athletics.

“Council leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports,” the NCAA said in a statement posted to social media. “Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time. Additional issues with the NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks.”

The status for winter-sports athletes remains in question. While most winter sports, such as skiing, were able to complete their regular-season competitions, championship events were mostly cut short, including the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament.

Like basketball, many ski racing athletes have worked hard to make it to the NCAA championship, only to have it come to an abrupt halt. When asked how they would respond to another year of eligibility Plymouth State University senior and NCAA racer Karl Kuus said there is not a clear answer.

“My heart says that we should get another one since we missed the last race and thus an incomplete season, and no team got to officially compete for the title of NCAA champion — personally or team,” Kuus said.  

The answer isn’t simple because, as Kuus states, it is hard to ignore the fact that racers did complete their regular season. “On the other hand, we did get a full season and only 17 west and 17 east athletes didn’t finish their seasons. All the rest, 100-plus athletes, did finish their seasons.” 

According to Colby College senior and NCAA championship racer Sandra Schoepke, the seniors impacted should get another year.

“I believe the right thing to do is to give at least senior athletes impacted an additional year of eligibility,” Schoepke said. “For some athletes, the NCAA championship is their season. Not allowing us to compete and canceling NCAAs, even in mid-event, took away the NCAA experience and all that these athletes have been working for.”

Recent articles coming out of Sports Illustrated state that it is looking more unlikely that the NCAA will grant eligibility to winter athletes, but no decisions have been finalized. 

“Honestly not sure but definitely down for another one,” said Kuus. 

Schoepke has similar sentiments stating, “This is something the NCAA can do, it is something that recognizes the sacrifice and effort of athletes. Not all will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility, but it would be a good faith effort in the part of NCAA.”