Ripple Effect

NCAA rules adjustments create new math for spring sports.
By Larry Little

Attention: number crunchers needed.

In late March, the NCAA Division I Council approved a one-year eligibility extension for spring-sport student-athletes. At Baylor, this includes baseball, softball, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s golf.

Additionally, the NCAA Eligibility Center waived standardized test score requirements for incoming freshmen for the 2020-21 academic year as nearly all spring dates for SAT and ACT testing were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The NCAA’s eligibility ruling has ripple effects, including that competition for playing time next spring will be more intense for incoming freshmen. However, Baylor Vice President and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mack B. Rhoades IV believes this is a positive all around.

“This will potentially allow for teams with some real quality student-athletes, not just athletically but also academically,” Rhoades says. “The reality is that coaches will need to have some really transparent conversations with student-athletes.”

The NCAA’s financial aid rules will be adjusted to allow programs to carry more scholarship student-athletes than normally permitted for the 2020-21 academic year, accommodating for returning 2020 seniors and incoming freshmen.

For example, women’s tennis is typically afforded eight full scholarships per NCAA rules. Baylor could have 10 scholarship student-athletes next spring. Head coach Joey Scrivano plans to add two student-
athletes next year, while 2020 seniors Angelina Shakhraichuk and Jessica Hinojosa plan to return for another season.

“I was thrilled that they’re both coming back,” Scrivano says. “Their experience is invaluable.”

The NCAA’s accommodation is not a blanket policy. Each institution determines whether to extend scholarships for 2020 spring-sport seniors. In April, the University of Wisconsin announced that it would not seek waivers for these student-athletes, citing financial uncertainty.

According to an October 2019 Investopedia article, the 2019 NCAA basketball tournaments generated $933 million from media rights fees, ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and television advertisements. Roughly 60 percent of that money is distributed to member institutions via conferences.

In March, the NCAA Board of Governors approved the distribution of $225 million — less than half what it previously budgeted — to Division I schools in June. Nonetheless, Rhoades says Baylor will be able to fund the additional scholarships next year.

“From an economic standpoint, we’re blessed,” Rhoades says. “We’ve obviously had really good budget years the last four years. When we thought this could be a possibility, we adjusted our budget and set aside money, and we’ll be able to accommodate as needed.”

Meanwhile, the calculus for baseball programs has gone from cumbersome to somewhat chaotic. The NCAA limits baseball to 35 roster spots and 27 total student-athletes on athletic aid. Returning 2020 seniors will not be counted toward those numbers next year, but programs typically lose some underclassmen to the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

This year, the MLB Draft, typically 40 rounds, was reduced to five rounds. This creates a roster logjam as many student-athletes who would have started their professional careers this summer will return to college. How much this affects each program remains to be seen.