Division I fall athletes are hurdling into a season of uncertainty.
With the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences having already postponed their fall sports, and the real possibility of other conferences doing the same, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors voted Friday to award all athletes competing in fall sports an additional year of eligibility.
The eligibility extension is the second of 2020. The first, for spring athletes, occurred at the end of March, a couple weeks after the NCAA announced cancelations of winter and spring sports championships at the onset of the coronavirus epidemic.
The recent decision comes as some conferences have committed to playing fall sports despite the United States’ inability to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 5.5 million Americans, and killed more than 175,000.
Shane Lyons, West Virginia University athletic director and Football Oversight Committee chairman, explained that eligibility has been student athletes’ top concern about whether to play during the pandemic.
“By providing clarity and removing that uncertainty from their minds is something that’s going to be very beneficial as we move forward.” Lyons said in an interview. “We have to look at what was right for the student-athlete in this situation.”
The DI Board of Directors also voted to ensure that student-athletes who opt out, or do not play due to a postponed season, cannot lose their scholarships.
In addition to the decisions regarding eligibility and scholarships, the Board also adopted a directive to work toward “scaled-back” fall championships in the spring.
The DI Council recommended last week the adoption of the directive, citing that over half of the programs in every fall sport have either canceled or postponed their seasons. The recommendation also includes that fall championships should only be played if it is safe to do so, and in accordance with federal, state and local health guidelines, according to the NCAA website.
Denise Trauth, acting Board chairwoman and Texas State University president, said it is most important that student-athletes have the opportunities they would have under normal circumstances.
“We want to provide opportunities for student-athletes whenever possible,” she said. “We understand it will be complicated and different, and we’re not certain how it will look. But we believe it’s important to try to give students that championship experience.”