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NCAA approves waiver for spring athletes

The Monday decision extends spring athletes “clocks” by one additional year, but denies winter athletes the same opportunity.

TCU Baseball vs Texas A&M, College World Series
Spring seniors across the country were celebrating Monday night, while winter athletes were left wanting more.
Melissa Triebwasser

There was good news and there was bad news Monday evening across collegiate athletics, as the NCAA announced that spring athletes would be granted a competition waiver, allowing them to return to their programs for an additional season, if they so desired.

The rule, as passed, allows all athletes to take advantage of an extra year of competition, meaning seniors can return to their programs and players on down to true freshman can play through 2025.

But it’s not just about allowing spring athletes to effectively wipe out the 2020 season and get a do-over, it’s about extending rosters and giving programs financial flexibility when it comes to who they offer scholarships to and for how much.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at Penn. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”

This will mean that coaches and players will have some tough decisions to make, especially in baseball, where scholarship caps are already extraordinarily limiting. Though the NCAA is removing the roster limit for the 2021 season, and is adjusting financial aid rules “to allow teams to carry more members on scholarship to account for incoming recruits and student-athletes who had been in their last year of eligibility who decide to stay”, there isn’t yet a clear picture of what that will look like in practice. Especially at a school like TCU, where tuition cost is already an obstacle for potential recruits. To help offset the loss of revenue from the early-end to the seasons, and thus, less funds to go around (especially at the more cash-strapped institutions), schools will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21.

What does this mean for TCU programs, most notably baseball? Probably that Jim Schlossnagle will have some tough decisions to make. The Frogs have eight seniors on the roster — three of whom are pitchers, three outfielders, two infielders, and a catcher. Haylen Green and Charles King are big pieces of the pitching puzzle for Schloss and Saarloos, and likely would receive similar financial packages to what they are currently getting. Zach Humphreys is a great player and a team leader, but with Kurtis Byrne waiting in the wings, how would that situation play out? Gene Wood and Conner Shepherd were playing great this season, but guys liken Dalton Brown and Hunter Wolfe, who have been injury-plagued, may have a tougher road. And what of the redshirt seniors, of which there are five? Would they want a sixth year of college? Surely some of these players will get drafted in a good enough slot to go pro, but it’s impossible at this point to say what their futures hold.

And that says nothing of the younger players; TCU signed eight true freshmen last spring, and have 18 committed in the class of 2020. As per usual, they’ll lose a handful of those players to the early rounds of the MLB Draft — and maybe more than anticipated with their suddenly being a lot of competition in the program — but you’re still looking at something over 20+ first and second year players on the roster come fall ball. TCU also brought in ten juco players, something that is unlikely to happen in the near future under the glut of volume the Frogs will have in the dugout.

Potentially, the Horned Frogs Baseball program could be 50 players strong.

With only about half a million dollars in scholarship money to go around.

The math certainly does not add up.

We will learn more in the days and weeks ahead as to how exactly this will all workout for Jim Schlossnagle and TCU, and there will certainly be some tough conversations with players ahead. The transfer portal will be flooded with veterans looking for another shot and young players looking for a faster track to meaningful innings on the field and the mound. But for now, it’s great that the NCAA at least gave them the opportunity.

But not all athletes were happy with the decision, one that did not allow for winter athletes to finish what they started. This was especially impactful for TCU’s Women’s Basketball team, who aired their sadness and frustrations on social media as well.

From a practicality standpoint, the decision makes sense: winter athletes had either completed their seasons or 90% of them. How do you say that a senior whose season was done (like the TCU men’s program) gets an extra year because a program bound for the postseason does? Or, how do you tell guys like Edric Dennis and Jaire Grayer no in order to allow Kianna Ray and Jaycee Bradley another shot to chase their dreams?

The most important part of the winter season went unplayed — the chase for a championship. And no athlete should be denied a chance to hold the trophy high or walk off the field/court/etc after having knowingly played their last game, win or lose. But that is the decision that was made Monday, so we will always wonder what might have been for the TCU Women’s Basketball program in their first March Madness run in a decade.