Spring sport athletes to be granted an extra season of eligibility; NCAA, WKU release COVID-19 updates

The WKU baseball team celebrates their home opener victory against Valparaiso at Nick Denes field on Feb. 15, 2020. WKU won 9-3.

Drake Kizer

The NCAA released a string of memos Friday that will have a major impact on WKU’s intercollegiate athletic programs going forward, and WKU Athletics spokesman Zach Greenwell also gave the Herald an update on the athletic department’s current practice plans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

NCAA planning to give spring sport athletes extra eligibility

The Division I Council Coordination Committee agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for spring sports impacted by the coronavirus, meaning student-athletes who have participated in spring sports this season will now be granted another year of collegiate eligibility, the NCAA announced.

The announcement came just one day after the NCAA announced it would cancel all of its remaining spring and winter championships and conferences, including Conference USA, also announced the indefinite suspension of all spring sport competition due to COVID-19.

“Council leadership agreed that eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports. Details of eligibility relief will be finalized at a later time. Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those in the coming days and weeks,” the NCAA stated in a tweet Friday.

Baseball, softball, tennis, men’s and women’s track and field and men’s and women’s golf are the WKU programs with student-athletes that would qualify for the eligibility waiver.

But according to tweets from Stadium College Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman and The Athletic Senior Writer Nicole Auerbach, the NCAA is also still looking into issues related to winter sport student-athletes whose postseason events were cancelled Thursday.

Any decisions related to eligibility of winter sport student-athletes could affect members of the WKU men’s and women’s basketball programs, as both the Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers were stripped of their ability to compete in conference or NCAA tournament events.

Uncertainty still surrounds the NCAA’s decision, as the governing body has yet to announce if the waiver will apply to seniors only, how current scholarship limits will be adjusted and who will pay for additional scholarships if schools are allowed to accommodate them.

NCAA temporarily bans in-person recruiting

The NCAA also banned in-person recruiting, which includes official and unofficial visits to campus for recruits, until at least April 15.

“The Council leadership put in place an immediate ban on in-person recruiting for Division I coaches. Additionally, the group advised schools to suspend any official and unofficial visits to campus from prospective student-athletes. This recruiting dead period will be in place until at least April 15, at which time the Division I Council Coordination Committee will evaluate. Telephone calls and written correspondence are allowed during dead periods,” the NCAA stated in a tweet Friday.

The “recruiting dead period” will affect all Division I coaches attempting to welcome “prospective student-athletes” to their facilities, but it will have a large impact on college football coaches in particular, many of whom traditionally utilize spring practice periods for recruiting visits.

WKU athletic director Todd Stewart told the media in Frisco, Texas, Thursday that spring football practice on the Hill, which was originally set to begin March 17, would be pushed back one week, making March 24 the tentative start date for head coach Tyson Helton’s squad.

Many major institutions across the country have made adjustments and cancellations to their spring football practice schedules and spring games, but WKU hasn’t announced any other changes.

NCAA provides responsibility reminder, WKU responds by making plan

The NCAA also informed member schools that they will be in charge of making the best decisions for their individual institutions as it relates to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Due to the evolving COVID-19 public health threat, Division I Council leadership today agreed that NCAA member schools should make the best decisions for the health and safety of their coaches, staff, student-athletes, recruits and communities,” the NCAA stated in a tweet Friday.

In response, WKU made an informed decision regarding its athletic department’s immediate practice plans, as Greenwell told the Herald, “As of now, all formal, informal and voluntary workouts are prohibited through Friday, March 20 to coincide with the university’s extended spring break.”

“We understand there are extenuating circumstances for some student-athletes that require them to be here next week, and athletic training will provide rehabilitation and medical treatment services as needed,” Greenwell said. “We will reassess our plans for practices and organized activities over the coming week.”

Sports Editor Drake Kizer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Drake on Twitter at @drakekizer_.