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NCAA allows spring sports athletes an added year of eligibility

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Every athlete competing in a spring sport gets a season back. Not just seniors.

That was part of a groundbreaking announcement by the NCAA’s Division I Council on Monday. The group voted to allow schools to provide spring sports athletes an additional season of competition as they lost the majority of the 2020 season due to the threat of COVID-19.

This would also allow Florida State and other schools to carry more athletes on scholarship to account for incoming recruits as well as those who opt to return for a senior season in 2021.

Freshmen, sophomores or juniors in 2020 spring sports could return with that same eligibility classification in ’21. This also means that juniors in baseball would retain their status in 2021 and would have leverage when negotiating with MLB teams in the draft next summer.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” ABCA president Craig Keilitz said.

In baseball, roster limits have been extended beyond 35 to accommodate any 2020 seniors. FSU had six seniors on the baseball roster in 2020: pitchers Chase Haney, Antonio Velez, Clayton Kwiatkowski, Jake Suddreth and infielders Carter Smith and Nico Baldor. It is not yet clear which FSU seniors would return next season and some could also be selected in the June amateur draft.

One of the main questions remaining: How will schools pay for the added expense? The NCAA said in a statement that schools can use the organization’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships but it’s not clear how much is available.

The 11.7-scholarship limit in baseball is in place for freshmen, sophomores and juniors. But any seniors who received partial scholarships – say a .5-scholarship in 2020 – could also receive a .5 in 2021 although a school would not be allowed to offer a full scholarship in 2021.

“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.”

Winter sports were not included in the decision. Council members declined to extend eligibility for athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed.

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