Reading the Fine Print


It feels like an eternity since the NCAA cancelled the Indoor Track & Field National Championships, March Madness and the rest of the spring season for athletics.


That, however, was less than three weeks ago. Sometimes, time doesn't fly.


The dead period of having no results - and therefore no analysis - is certainly difficult to manage, but the unprecedented cancellations and the impending consequences of those cancellations leaves us with a Pandora's Box of uncertainty for the next few months.


However, on Monday, student-athletes and fans around the country finally gained some clarity.


As many early reports indicated, the NCAA Division One Council made the decision to extend additional spring eligibility to student-athletes who did not get to participate in their spring season of competition this year. The Council also adjusted rules to allow universities to carry more student-athletes on their athletic rosters (with scholarships).


Additional winter eligibility was not given.


Both the Division Two and Division Three Councils have already made similar decisions in regards to eligibility, although details and language surrounding scholarships differ.


The announcement of additional eligibility, as well as greater roster/scholarship flexibility for Division One athletics, is certainly encouraging - although it admittedly would have been shocking if this had not been the end decision.


There are, however, extremely important aspects of this announcement that may go overlooked. In their announcement, the NCAA explained that universities would not be required to provide athletic financial aid "at the same level awarded for 2019-20".


In other words, universities around the country will have the ability to give some, all or none of the original scholarship that a senior student-athlete was originally awarded if that athlete chooses to return. This is a massive ruling that is truthfully a double edged sword depending on how you look at it.


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On one hand, student-athletes who want to finish out their spring eligibility at the university they started at could be in jeopardy of having a significant cut to their scholarships.


That, of course, is only if the university opts to make a cut to their scholarships at all.


For track athletes such as steeplechasers and 10k specialists who were looking to bolster their resumes this spring in an effort to gain a pro contract, this ruling could be a crucial caveat. Those current seniors would be the athletes most likely to return in the spring of 2021, but the possibility of having a lesser scholarship could force those athletes to look elsewhere if their original scholarship isn't completely fulfilled. As a result, the country could theoretically see a mass number of transfers from track and field's top talents.


So why would certain institutions choose not to grant the original scholarship amounts back to current seniors who return to their university in the spring of 2021?


Simply put, the answer is funding.


While many schools in major, high-level conferences are often backed by favorable TV deals and ticket sales, smaller universities that were already struggling with funding would be in significant trouble if they were forced to pay extra scholarships that they expected to be off of their expense sheet come 2021.


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The complexities of scholarships and funding will continue to be a conversation for the foreseeable future, but an additional year of eligibility could completely change the landscape of the NCAA...at least more than we've already discussed.


Why? Well, it all starts with the Ivy League.


For years, the Ivy League has limited student-athletes to only four years of eligibility. A fifth year of competition has never been an option. It's still unclear whether or not the Ivy League will enforce this rule now that athletes have an additional year of eligibility via the NCAA.


However, according to one source, the transfer portal is currently filled with student-athletes from the Ivy League. This suggests that some athletes aren't confident that the Ivy League will alter their original rule and allow them to continue competing in that conference despite the NCAA granting an additional spring season.


But the additional year of eligibility isn't just valuable to Ivy League seniors. For younger athletes, this makes them far more valuable in the long run.


Now that Ivy League athletes have the reassurance that they will have an additional spring season once they finish their four years in the conference, the incentive to redshirt a season of cross country or indoor track becomes far greater. That way, the athlete will have more than just one season of eligibility by the time his or her four year clock in the Ivy League is complete.


According to one coach we spoke to, that makes the athlete far more valuable to certain collegiate programs if they end up pursuing graduate degrees.


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The after-effects and long-term impact that the cancellations and rulings could have are still largely unknown. After all, this is new territory for nearly everyone. Still, the looming changes, scholarship debates and potential transfers leaves us in store for what may be one of the wildest off-seasons that the NCAA has ever seen.