The NCAA will extend eligibility for Division I players in spring sports who have had their seasons canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the governing body announced Friday, adding that the details of the extension still must be discussed and agreed upon.
The decision essentially means that even students in their last year of eligibility — seniors and, in some instances, graduate students — will be allowed to play again next year.
Further information is scarce, and the NCAA has yet to make an official announcement regarding winter sports, such as basketball, which had to cancel its NCAA Tournament, or Division II and III schools. Additionally, no further details were provided with regard to how this might affect roster size and, perhaps most notably, the limited number of scholarships allotted to teams.
“Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time,” the announcement read. “Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through these in the coming days and weeks.”
And though many certainly were curious about how the extension will work, news of the decision was met with widespread relief in the collegiate athletics world.
The Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team, which was ranked fifth in the country, has five seniors and one graduate student, all of whom were concerned that they had played their last game Sunday without even knowing it. As it stands, seniors will have a difficult decision to make, with some already locked into postgraduate jobs and obligations that could preclude them from playing another season.
“It’s definitely crazy,” said Kelsi Lonigro, a junior from Blue Point, who said she was less concerned about extending her own eligibility than she was for the seniors, some of whom still might not be able to play next year. “At least if you lose [in the playoffs], you know this could be my last game, or this could not. But [the last game] could have been Sunday, and they have no idea . . . They don’t deserve to go out like this.”
Her teammate, defender Sydney Gagnon, will be one of those who will have much to decide. She has a job lined up after graduation but still hasn’t determined her next step.
The entire experience, she said, has been surreal. One minute, she and her teammates were in a room with 200 other student-athletes, being told that their season was being delayed by three weeks, she said. The next minute, everything changed.
“It was really confusing,” she said. “We were kind of just sitting there because the meeting had ended and people ended up leaving, and then we got a group notification: ‘I need to see the seniors now.’ . . . The room was kind of in a panic and I looked at Ally [Kennedy, a teammate and fellow senior].’’
In that moment, she said, both of them realized what was about to happen: The America East had canceled the season and the championship game, and one of the best teams in the nation wasn’t going to be able to fight for a title.
What’s more, because opportunities in professional lacrosse are slim and not particularly lucrative, it was likely that, had the NCAA not taken action, Kennedy and Gagnon had played their last game. On top of that, there would be no senior day and, Gagnon said, likely no graduation ceremony.
“I try not to think of it,” Kennedy said. “It was surreal . . . A bad dream you want to wake up from.”
Kennedy, who is from North Babylon, said she plans to return next year: “I’m 100% coming back. I want to write my own ending.”
At Hofstra, there were similar reactions. Darcie Smith, a women’s lacrosse senior defender from Wantagh, said, “At first I was just shocked and upset.”
As far as returning next year, she said: “It’s definitely a conversation with the coaches and my family. Right now it is new, so I just have to move forward. Hopefully the NCAA will be able to find financial aid for programs so they can bring back the deserving seniors, so it’s just a consideration for myself.”
Rob Weissheier, a senior infielder on the Hofstra baseball team, said: “To get that chance would be awesome again. 100%. If I get the opportunity to be a redshirt and get another year of eligibility, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that I would be back playing baseball because I couldn’t see my career ending this way, just on a canceled season. We set out goals to win and we are going to achieve them next year.”
The Kellenberg graduate from Valley Stream said that when he first heard the season was canceled, “I was crying. I really couldn’t think about it. Still thinking about it gives me tears, and I’m thinking about it every second of the day.”
There are, of course, other wrinkles. Though schools such as Stony Brook allow for fifth-year seniors, the Ivy League does not. Those schools canceled all of their spring sports on Wednesday, and even with the NCAA ruling, Ivy League seniors may have no choice but to say goodbye to their athletic careers. They also could choose to transfer to a non-Ivy school.
Medford’s Rich Ciufo, a senior captain on the Brown baseball team, said he isn’t sure what is going to happen or what he is going to do, even if the Ivy League does make allowances.
“There are no postgrad athletes in the Ivy League,” he said. “To come back and play at Brown, it also has to make sense financially. I don’t know that I could afford to pay for another year of school to play baseball. Of course I’d rather play my last game at Brown; it just needs to make sense.”
Ciufo also expressed his concern about the trickle-down effect the decision will have on the rosters at every school and the incoming freshmen.
“There’s been discussion about making more scholarship money available and expanding the roster size to accommodate the issues that will arise from giving everyone back a fifth year,” he said. “That makes perfect sense. If everyone comes back for a year and you add all the freshman commits to a school roster, there’s obviously too many players. Something has to give.”
Said Hofstra AD Rick Cole: “We will move quickly with the NCAA in talking about what those next steps are. It doesn’t have to be a decision that’s made today in this moment, but the coming days, we will continue to see things unfold and what our next steps could be.”
With Gregg Sarra and Owen O’Brien