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Giving NCAA athletes back missed eligibility is costly

NCAA Division I schools’ plan to preserve an additional year of eligibility for athletes in spring sports whose seasons were lost due to the coronavirus pandemic could place a significant additional cost on athletics departments that will be facing declining revenue.

Giving an additional season of eligibility just to seniors on spring-sports teams could cost public schools in the Power Five conferences anywhere from $500,000 to $900,000, a USA TODAY analysis of schools’ financial reports to the NCAA shows.

Schools outside the Power Five would face lower amounts, but FCS schools that have relatively robust spring sports offerings could be looking at a cost of around $400,000. However, for the schools that would be facing amounts much lower than that, the additional revenue needed — even in the best circumstances — is hard to come by.

The NCAA tournament has been canceled this year along with spring sports around the country due to coronavirus concerns.

And the outlay involved would grow dramatically if the option for a replacement season of eligibility were to be permitted for more than one class.

“I do believe it’s the right thing to talk about it and see what the possibilities are,” said Eastern Washington athletics director Lynn Hickey, whose program has five spring sports teams and in 2018-19 provided less than the Division I-maximum number of scholarships in all of them. “In our situation, how do we come up with the funds for the extra scholarships that we weren’t counting on? Quite honestly, I don’t know how we would pay for it. I’m being very honest and transparent. I don’t know.”

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