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The View From Pluto: NCAA Eligibility Ruling Is Good For Athletes, Worrisome For Schools

The NCAA is giving all Division I college athletes an extra season of eligibility to make up for this spring that was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. WKSU sports commentator Terry Pluto said the decision mostly affects graduating seniors who play sports like baseball, softball, lacrosse and golf.

Less-costly sports  

"These are frankly the sports you don't see on TV, where there are not a lot of scholarships involved, and they're usually chopped up into pieces and combined with academic grants and student loans for those athletes," Pluto said.  

Division I baseball can offer up to 11.7 scholarships that can be divided among a maximum of 27 players. For golf, schools can offer 4.5 for men and six for women. In contrast, Division I football programs can offer 85 scholarships, and for basketball, it's 13 for men and 15 for women. 

The decision by the NCAA Division I Council will allow schools to determine how much scholarship aid to give next year to athletes who were in what would have been their final season of eligibility. That's a problem for schools because the NCAA's big moneymaker, March Madness, was cancelled. It reported this week that the amount distributed to Division I schools would be just 37.5% of the expected $600 million amount. 

"That's why I think a number of these schools may say, 'Sure, you can come back, but that half-baseball scholarship or that quarter-golf scholarship? We're not going to be able to do that this year,'" Pluto said.

He said it's likely that most athletes will decide to move on.

"The nice thing is, if you're in track or whatever, you're going to be going to grad school or student teaching or something else. It's not like everybody is heading to the pros here," Pluto said.

No second chance for winter sports

The NCAA declined to extend the same eligibility offer to winter sports, including basketball. 

"That would have cost a ton of money," Pluto said. "For example, the University of Akron (basketball team) started four seniors this year. Kent State had five. And both of those coaches were recruiting a bunch of players to come in with the idea that they could play right away. If they would have come back another year, all those players you recruited would be backed up."

And Pluto said college basketball teams did complete their regular seasons, playing as many as 30 games.

"I talked to Keith Dambrot, the former coach at Akron and now at Duquesne, and he said, 'It's kind of hard to say you lost a season. You lost a tournament,'" Pluto said.

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