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Athletics: Coronavirus prompts eligibility questions for many at UL

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 21, 2020

So many questions. So few answers.

That was the feeling for UL’s spring sports coaches as they initially tried over the past week or so to sort out the logistics of an extra year of eligibility being granted for athletes whose 2020 seasons were cut short by the nation’s coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

“I guess it's all conjecture,” Gerry Glasco, coach of the nationally ranked Cajuns softball team, said early in the week.

Since then, there's been a bit more clarity. But not much.

On Friday night, the NCAA made it known publicly that its "full Division I Council will discuss and vote on eligibility relief for student-athletes whose seasons were impacted by COVID-19 and other related issues on March 30."

More: Coronavirus ends a Cajuns career, could extend others

"In principle," according to the NCAA, "the (council's) coordination committee agrees relief should be extended to spring sport student-athletes and supports providing schools with a framework in which they have the autonomy to make their own decisions in the best interest of their campus, conference and student-athletes."

“The coordination committee recognizes that this local decision-making is made more challenging by the implications of COVID-19,” council chair Grace Calhoun, also Penn's athletic director, wrote in an email to NCAA members. “However, providing a broader regulatory relief framework will allow campuses and conferences to make decisions they believe are in their collective best interest.”

It appears the relief will come only to spring sport student-athletes and not for those in winter sports, including basketball, who missed out on postseason play.

The Ragin’ Cajuns’ women’s basketball team, for instance, couldn't play its scheduled semifinal-round game at the Sun Belt Conference Tournament in New Orleans.

Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead readily conceded that his lone senior, Kendall Bess, won’t get another shot at going to the NCAA Tournament, and that – although the matter was discussed by the NCAA’s Division Council – the same likely is true for other basketball seniors who missed out on a complete March Madness experience.

Related: Opportunity lost to coronavirus crisis hurts Bess, Cajuns

“For our sport,” Brodhead said, “it looks like they’re done.

“It won’t be like that,” he added, “for the spring sports.”

Instead, the NCAA indicated shortly after it canceled both all winter and spring sports championships that student-athletes in all spring sports would be offered relief.

In the case of the Cajuns, that means baseball, softball, men’s golf, tennis and track-and-field.

It’s an idea met with open arms by UL coaches on all fields of play.

“We are grateful that the NCAA is planning on extending the eligibility of student-athletes in spring sports one more year,” Cajuns golf coach Theo Sliman, whose team was to have hosted one of the major tournaments on its schedule this past week, said in a statement.

“For our 2020 seniors,” Sliman added with reference to Jack Tolson and Micah Goulas, “they will have the opportunity to play in the 2021 Louisiana Classics and compete for postseason play.”

More: Cajuns coaches saw the end coming

But specific decisions on how the relief would be granted for all spring sports were few and far between in the immediacy of the moment.

The NCAA did subsequently say in a statement that details "will be finalized later with input from the Division I membership,” and that “additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed, and appropriate governance bodies will work through those with members in the coming days and weeks.”

Some answers may be made known after the March 30 vote.

But so many matters must be decided.

Chief among them: Will the relief apply only to be seniors, or all student-athletes? And what about, in the case of baseball, MLB Draft-eligible juniors, like Cajuns shortstop Hayden Cantrelle?

Related: UL shortstop Cantrelle tuning out hot MLB Draft talk

Also: How will scholarship limitations be handled? Who will pay for the extra scholarships? What about partial scholarships?

As far as the big one goes, UL baseball coach Matt Deggs left no doubt as to how he feels.

“It’s imperative that it’s not just the seniors,” he said during a telephone interview.

But how can everyone be accommodated?

Glasco – who has eight seniors on his roster, standout pitchers Summer Elyson and Megan Kleist, starting catcher Julie Rawls, starting shortstop Alissa Dalton and starting first baseman Sarah Hudek among them – has some ideas.

Related: Athletic UL catcher Rawls finds a home behind the plate

More: Cajuns' Ellyson, Kleist face mound of expectations

More: Cajuns ready for Sarah Hudek to shine on big stage

“We’ve already signed 11 kids for the coming year,” he said.

“So if these eight seniors come back, I guess they would just open it up as far as scholarships.”

Glasco’s guess?

Teams would be allowed however many scholarships per year they currently are permitted, which in the case of the Cajuns is 12, “plus whatever your senior class is for the next four years.”

That would mean 20 UL softball scholarships for the 2021 season, if all eight seniors decide to come back.

“Obviously that would be imbalanced,” Glasco said, “because some schools might only have two senior scholarships; others might have four. Some might have six. That number would vary.

“But over the next four years it would be 12 scholarships for all schools – or whatever their maximum allowance is at each individual school. In that case, over a four-year period it would be equal.

“That’s almost the only way,” Glasco added, “they can do that.”

More: UL not sure how costly coronavirus will be for program

Yet even the Cajuns coach himself concedes that The Glasco Plan is not full-proof.

“The problem with that is there still (are) only nine starters in the game of softball,” he said, “and there’s only 22 kids allowed – in some conferences, the SEC, it’s 20 – in the dugout for the postseason.

“Now we’re gonna have in the 30s roster-size. So that’s a lot of things we’ll have to decide,” added Glasco, who also spoke with The Daily Advertiser in a telephone interview. “We’ll have to decide how to approach it, and how to introduce it and work it out with our student-athletes.”

Then there’s the matter of money.

Will the NCAA help at all to subsidize the cost of all these extra scholarships? Or will that will be left to individual schools?

In the case of senior baseball players, some of whom only are on partial scholarships, will they have to pay out of their own pocket, or that of their family, for an extra year of school they not necessarily plan on before the pandemic hit?

Or will those costs too be picked up by the schools and/or the NCAA?

More: Cajuns athletic director's world flipped by coronavirus

“I think you’re also going to have to give some relief to the university and the coaches as well,” said baseball coach Deggs, who had five seniors on his 2020 roster – pitcher Brandon Young, who was to have opened Sun Belt play against Coastal Carolina as UL’s Friday-night starter; starting centerfielder Brennan Breaux, who began his career at LSU and was in his fifth season in college after transferring and redshirting in 2018; pitcher Austin Bradford; returning from injury pitcher Jack Burk; and starting outfielder Gavin Bourgeois, who returned for a second senior season on a medical redshirt after last year was spoiled by injury.  

It remains to be seen in what form that help will come.

But wait; there’s more.

Baseball programs do divvy up some or all of their limited number of scholarships – 11.7, by NCAA rule – among multiple players.

Would that still be the case going forward?

Or is that cause for a reconsideration of the current rules, which in baseball circles – especially compared to football and basketball – has long been widely panned as patently unfair?

“Maybe now the (NCAA) will realize they can have more than 11.7 guys on scholarship in baseball at one time!” tweeted UL receivers coach and football recruiting coordinator Tim Leger, a former minor-leaguer in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization for three seasons in the 1990s and the father of ex-Cajuns star baseball pitcher Gunner Leger. “Long overdue anyways!!!”

Related: Leger's UL family job benefit is I 'Got to tell him I love him'

Some are questions for the present; some, perhaps, for the future.

And some answers may be coming sooner than later.

But many are ones that in these uncertain times could take quite a while to formulate.

“We’ve got plenty of time,” Deggs said, “to make allowances, and try to re-recruit guys, or make adjustments to the roster.”

More: 'Tons of emotion' as Cajuns navigate 'uncharted waters'

More: UL's Napier has a coronavirus message for the Cajuns

More: UL football spring game canceled due to coronavirus

More: Maggard says Sun Belt suspending all sports was 'the correct decision' but 'disappointing'