While this apparent solution from the NCAA seems to satisfy all parties, a closer look at the inner workings of the Division I scholarship system reveals a litany of questions and complications that could prevent this crowd-pleasing promise from coming to fruition.
Who will pay?
While the principle of granting another year to seniors is universally agreed upon, issues quickly arise when dollar signs and scholarships are thrown into the equation. If the NCAA were to allow players to return for an extra season along with a new first-year recruiting class, the burden of funding additional scholarships would fall either on the school or the NCAA themselves.
Additional funding from the NCAA is unlikely, as the cancellation of March Madness eliminates a major source of revenue for the 2020 year. Long-term TV deals with CBS/Turner Sports will help keep it afloat during this trying economic time, but the strain of funding additional scholarships for Division I schools does not seem likely. The burden of compensating many of these athletes will likely fall on the schools themselves.
The financial burden is projected to be a heavy one. USA Today estimated that the cost for schools in Power Five conferences to ensure relief from spring sports alone could total anywhere from $500,000 to $900,000.
For schools like North Carolina — whose athletic departments enjoy annual revenues of more than $100 million — the cost of granting these athletes an extra year may be justifiable. But for smaller schools that lack superpower basketball or football programs to buoy an athletic department, full scholarship and eligibility relief may be impossible.
In these instances, one can envision a “pay to play” system where fifth-year seniors may be asked to pay full or partial tuition in order to get one last chance at a championship.
More than money
Ignoring the obvious monetary roadblock, questions of their academic standing also complicate the seemingly easy fix of eligibility relief.
For seniors slated to graduate in the spring of 2020, the prospect of returning to school would currently require them to enroll as a graduate student. Otherwise, the idea of allowing non-students to compete in collegiate athletics appears anathema to the basic tenets of the NCAA, but is something that other student-led petitions have begun suggesting for seniors placed in such extenuating circumstances.
An extra season of eligibility would have student-athletes put their post-graduate careers on hold for another year, but could potentially incentivize them to take out student loans to keep their athletic careers alive.
No one wants the seniors' seasons to end like this. But with so many questions to answer, it's unclear if the NCAA will be able to work out an equitable solution come the end of March.
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