By: Mario Cosentino

The NCAA has decided to grant all spring sport athletes an extra year of athletic eligibility in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This decision was made on March 13th, which was a day after the NCAA canceled all remaining winter and spring championships in all three divisions for the 2019-2020 academic year. According to a statement released by the NCAA, hosting championship events posed a huge health risk to those involved.

“This decision is based on the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, our ability to ensure the events do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic and the impracticality of hosting such events at any time during this academic year given ongoing decisions by other entities,” the NCAA’s Council Coordination Committee statement said.

Individual athletic conferences followed the NCAA’s lead and canceled their respective seasons in the following days, with the Middle Atlantic Conference making their announcement on March 16th.

Three Messiah teams were among those directly affected by the NCAA postseason cancelations. The women’s basketball team, the men’s wrestling team and some members of the women’s indoor track team were all at the location of their respective championships the day before they were set to compete.

These athletes, however, will have to wait to hear if they get another year of eligibility as the current decision only applies to spring sports.

As for athletes who will receive an extra year of eligibility, the NCAA has extended some grace from the normal rules and regulations that apply to institutions.

“They all received what they are calling a “blanket waiver” for the spring season. We are just waiting to see what the NCAA will do for the winter student-athletes,” Rico Plummer, the Assistant Director of Athletics for Compliance and Internal Operations at Messiah College, said.

This waiver will allow schools who canceled spring sports to forgo certain membership requirements they cannot meet because of the cancelations. These include the NCAA’s rules regarding minimum sport sponsorship and scheduling requirements.

It is still unknown as to what the specifications will be for individual athletes.

“Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time,” the NCAA said in another statement. “Additional issues with the NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks.”

The Division I Council Committee is set to vote on March 30, while a decision for the other two divisions is likely to follow.

The chair of the Division Three Administrative committee, Tori Murden McClure, acknowledges that these decisions are important to students, but ultimately the primary focus of the NCAA right now is its athletes.

“During these extraordinarily difficult times, conferences and institutions should not focus on the application of NCAA legislation, but rather the health and well-being of student-athletes,” McClure said.

The NCAA is hoping to bring people together during this time of social distancing through their #UnitedAsOne campaign, which was started on social media by some of its member schools less than a day after the winter and spring championships were canceled.

Eligibility updates and other information about COVID-19 can be found here on the NCAA’s website.