One day after receiving the gut-wrenching news that his college career was seemingly over, Middleton native Emmet Herb learned Friday that he might have the option to compete for NCAA Division III power St. Thomas (Minn.) University again this fall.
The NCAA opened the door Friday to additional eligibility for student-athletes denied the opportunity to start and/or finish their seasons this spring due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In a series of Tweets on NCAA-administered accounts, three committees announced they have recommended "eligibility relief" for athletes in spring sports in each of the NCAA's three divisions.
The Tweets were met with calls to extend the eligibility relief to winter sports athletes whose championship seasons were ended abruptly by Thursday's announcement that the NCAA had pulled the plug on championships for all sports for the balance of the 2019-20 school year, prompting many schools and conferences to suspend competition immediately. For collegiate golfers and coaches with Wisconsin ties, the Tweets also created a fair number of questions related to details of how the NCAA's eligibility relief plan will be implemented and if it will achieve its intended goal of restoring lost opportunities at some point in the future.
"I’m not graduating in the spring so it’s something I would love to do," Herb wrote in a text message to Wisconsin.Golf, stressing that he agreed with the NCAA's move to suspend competition in all sports due to the health concerns at the root of the decision. "As far as what (eligibility relief) would entail at this point, I’m not really sure. ... If I can play college golf in the future, I would be ecstatic to finish my fourth year but there is not enough information as of right now to come up with a plan."
Several other collegiate golfers and coaches contacted Friday by Wisconsin.Golf shared Herb's wait-and-see approach to what the NCAA's announcement means and whether it is practical for seniors slated to graduate this spring to extend their golf careers this fall.
At the Division I level, many of those decisions will presumably be tied to scholarship allotment considerations and the financial ability of the golf program or the school to fund additional scholarships allowed by the relief effort. In addition, there are roster management factors between coaches and their golfers – both those currently on the roster and those recruited to join the program in the fall – for all parties to sort out.
"They have said they will grant an additional season," said University of Wisconsin women's golf coach Todd Oehrlein, who also serves as president of the Women's Golf Coaches Association. "What that looks like, I don't think anybody has that answer yet."
At the Division III level, where the Tweet via the Division III Administrative Committee suggested one season/semester of eligibility would be granted, there are many questions for those golfers who compete in a dual-season sport.
- Will the eligibility extension cover the fall and spring seasons?
- If not, will that athlete have to be enrolled during the fall to be eligible to use his or her final semester of eligibility in the spring?
- If not, would conferences with a fall championship to determine their automatic qualifier to the NCAA Championship be forced to move that championship to the spring in 2020-21 so seniors can not only compete for what is commonly referred to as the "AQ" berth and be able to compete with it at the NCAA Championship?
- How many credits would a graduated senior need to take to be eligible for the semester or year of eligibility?
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, who pays for the education that allows the departing senior to take advantage of the opportunity for additional eligibility and how does the NCAA prevent those financial implications from turning this opportunity into a socio-economic issue?
"Lots of great questions that will need to be addressed," Darrin Skinner, who coaches the men's and women's teams at UW-Eau Claire, wrote in a text to Wisconsin.Golf. "They would need to be enrolled, which is the most difficult issue financially. It will be vastly more complicated at DI and DII with scholarships and allotments.
"Our men’s team has two players that would be eligible and plan to play because they are double majoring and had a whole year of schooling planned already. We also have one more (men's golfer and women's golfer) headed to the job market, however. I just really appreciate the potential for student-athletes who are planning to continue their education the opportunity to compete and finish their senior year."