Senior lacrosse star Ethan Walker has an extra year of eligibility. Junior women’s lacrosse star Quintin Hoch-Bullen now has two years of eligibility. Freshman women’s golf star Anna Zanusso – the same Anna Zanusso who carded an NCAA record 61 earlier this year – gets a full 4-year do-over. Yesterday, the NCAA Executive Council approved an extra year of eligibility for all spring NCAA Division I and II athletes. In the case of the University of Denver, this includes the men’s and women’s lacrosse, tennis, and golf.
As for gymnastics basketball and skiing – all three classified winter sports – will not receive special eligibility treatment under the new ruling.
Boiled down, the recent decision means the following:
- An additional season of eligibility will apply to all spring athletes, not just seniors.
- Financial aid rules were adjusted to allow teams to carry more athletes on scholarship, expanding the limit to include those who return.
- Schools won’t have to offer the same level of scholarship to returning senior athletes, as they had this season. But, schools can draw on the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to help pay for athletes who take advantage of this extra eligibility.
- An athlete can come back for another season and transfer to another school. But any scholarship they’d get at the new school would count against that team’s scholarship limit.
In the short-term, Denver coaches will have some difficult decisions to make with 26 seniors (W Lax 7 M Lax 9, M Golf 2, W Golf 4, M Tennis 4) as at this point, the NCAA’s decision raises far more questions than it offers answers. Do they make selective offers to current senior athletes or do they offer a blanket option to return? Then, there is the cost of additional scholarships following a disastrous ending to the current school year. Finally, how does this impact recruiting? Will recruits be penalized by competing for time against returning seniors and other athletes who have an extra year of eligibility and experience? Finally, will there be a rush by other athletic programs with open positions on their teams to actually recruit other program’s graduating seniors, especially in lacrosse? Could DU actually be playing against Ethan Walker next season if another school picks him up?
The prevailing thought, however, is that before any schools make any decisions, each conference will roll out guidelines to keep the situation fair for all schools. It’s far too soon, though, to tell what those guidelines will entail.
Based on the current financial situation, expect Denver to be highly selective when/if they offer current seniors a ‘5th year’. Many seniors likely already have post-graduate career plans while the current economic environment may encourage others to continue to stay in school and continue to play sports as the current financial chaos plays out.
On the surface, this is a great idea but it will be a challenging ruling for the University of Denver coaches and administrators to manage both from a cost standpoint and team dynamics perspective. It will be tough for athletes, too, some of whom will undoubtedly put parts of their lives on hold to train and grind for an additional year of NCAA competition.