In a rare display of foresight and doing what is right, the NCAA on Thursday scrapped the entirety of its remaining winter and spring sports championships.
The most immediate, obvious, and self-interested consequences of the unprecedented decision are that we won’t be filling out brackets, hammering parlays, and gathering at bars and friends’ houses to consume the unrivaled madness typically associated with the month of March.
This is a difficult to decision to digest, indeed, but it’s also the right one. Sports leagues around the globe have shuttered this week as a protective measure for societies that lack the information needed to make educated decisions about how to best curb the spread of COVID-19.
But as we adjust to life without sports, including the absence of what is arguably America’s greatest sporting event, we must also be cognizant of the unjust consequences produced by what was an ethically and morally correct decision. Student-athletes across the country this morning are dealing with the harsh reality that their athletic careers are over—or are very likely about to be over.
Much of the focus will be on players who won’t get an opportunity to participate in the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. Beyond the social and entertainment void created by the cancellation, several student-athletes will be denied an opportunity to cement legacies and capture the imaginations of millions.
There will be no Cinderella stories this year, no buzzer-beaters, no epic comebacks. As a result, these athletes will miss out on an amazing experience, while fewer will miss an opportunity improve draft stocks and/or become household names.
It’s a damn shame, but this injustice extends beyond winter athletes. Far beyond.
As the NCAA kills spring sports championships and several of its conferences across various levels cancel entire schedules, many spring sport athletes will be denied the opportunity to play the vast majority of their seasons. They, too, will miss chances to make impressions on scouts. They, too, will miss the bus rides and camaraderie with teammates and coaches that build lasting memories. They, too, will miss the opportunity to see the results of their hard work.
That just doesn’t seem right, and it’s an especially cruel reality for senior athletes in the final year of their eligibility.
Whether we are talking about high-end D1 programs or lesser-known D2 or D3 programs, there are thousands of athletes who are currently coming to grips with the fact that their grind—the 5 a.m. runs, team lifting sessions, and countless hours spent refining their skills could be for nothing.
Many of them are feeling like this:
I didn’t rehab 9 months for this https://t.co/X5Cx88z2gW
— Seth Urbon (@TheUrbonLegend) March 11, 2020
Words can’t describe the emotions I’ve been feeling these past few hours. Hard to believe that this was really it. I love my teammates, y’all will be my brothers for life. It has been one… https://t.co/QrAHfHl2vF
— Shane Kubrak (@shanekubs14) March 13, 2020
And that leads us to the point.
Some are upset with the NCAA and individual leagues and conferences for what they believe to be hasty overreactions to a virus that hasn’t produced a large number of confirmed cases (yet). Time will tell if that anger is just, but I personally can’t bring myself to fault the NCAA or any professional sports league doing its part to protect the greater good.
That being said, I presume many will agree on this next part—the NCAA should take the correct steps to grant additional eligibility to student-athletes who lost virtually entire seasons due to this pandemic.
Yes, there are scholarship limits, and, yes, there are roster and recruiting considerations to take into account. Both are factors that under normal circumstances would prevent such a widespread and drastic measure—but this isn’t even a remotely normal circumstance. Temporary roster and scholarship exemptions as well as transfer exemptions should be among the options in play for any spring student-athlete who just watched the better part of a season get flushed away.
As for seniors, many of them have finalized post-graduation plans that do not involve athletics, and plenty will move on. But others will adjust those plans for an opportunity to cash in on one more shot, one more chance to validate the social and physical sacrifices made to achieve individual and team success. At the very least, those sacrifices should be rewarded with an opportunity for these athletes to make decisions about what comes next.
It’s not often that the NCAA does what’s logical and does so while bolstering its image, but its leaders have before them a rare opportunity to do what is right and make this right.
Now, let’s see if they take advantage of it.