Hey, NCAA: Do right by the college athletes who just had their fall seasons canceled
Hey, NCAA. Wake up from your 5-month nap and listen to this.
There are college athletes who need your help. Today. Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. Not in late-September when the season starts. Today.
You might not have heard because these decisions apparently aren’t yours to make, but on Tuesday the first Power 5 conference announced that it canceled the fall season. It actually happened right in your backyard! After the Big Ten’s announcement, the Pac-12 followed suit. That’s 2 Power 5 conferences with canceled fall seasons (for now).
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but what’s happening as we speak is those athletes who just had their seasons canceled want to play their respective sports at places where seasons haven’t been canceled.
Those kids need immediate eligibility, and they need you to give it to them.
I realize that you admitted that the waiver process that you created was “strained” and “unsustainable.” I also realize that you punted on granting 1-time transfers immediate eligibility in the wake of this pandemic because you feared that this exact scenario would unfold. That is, a conference would cancel its season and have its roster gutted. Guess what. It’s happening, and you need to do something about it.
Is that fair to schools like Ohio State and Penn State that would inevitably have their teams get picked apart by the remaining active Power 5 conferences? No, but you know what seems less fair? The fact that we’ve seen someone like Tate Martell get immediate eligibility because he wasn’t a system fit. What about Taulia Tagovailoa getting immediate eligibility after transferring from Alabama to Maryland because … his quarterback room was crowded? How are those kids worth granting hardship waivers for but the kids who had their fall seasons canceled are not?
And don’t give me this “well, they’re still going to have a season. It’ll just be in the spring.” This might be above your pay grade, NCAA, but being forced to play 2 seasons in an 8-month stretch is a much more legitimate hardship than “I wasn’t good enough to win the starting job elsewhere.”
That spring season, by the way, has no concrete plans. That’s sort of your way of going about it. Head down, fingers crossed, wake up in 5 months and hope it’s all better.
The problem is that all student-athletes should have been granted a 1-time transfer exception for immediate eligibility long, long ago. Then we wouldn’t have this mess. Or if you, the NCAA, had decided to make March 12 a cutoff date for allowing athletes to transfer for immediate eligibility because of that being the day COVID-19 canceled the NCAA Tournament, you could simply point to that.
Instead, however, 1-by-1 you granted immediate eligibility to the likes of Tagovailoa, J.T. Daniels, Phil Jurkovec and others, while the likes of Joey Gatewood, Justin Shorter and Cade Mays continue to wait on your ruling.
A strained system? Yep. A flawed system? Absolutely.
Your organization’s lack of control over the Power 5 conferences led to them acting independently during these uncertain times. Now, when the ball is finally in your court, NCAA, action needs to be taken that actually does right by the student-athlete. That is what you claim to do, right?
I don’t know which players will opt out and begin NFL Draft training. But I do know that there will be plenty of players looking for new homes.
Go tell Justin Fields that he doesn’t deserve to play football in 2020 if he wants to. Better yet, go tell his teammate, Trey Sermon, that he shouldn’t be able to spend his last year elsewhere. Sermon transferred from Oklahoma to Ohio State for his senior season and was immediately eligible as a grad transfer. Is he just out of eligibility because the Big Ten canceled its season? That would be ridiculous.
What else is ridiculous is telling all of those draft hopeful players that they won’t get to play this year, and that’s based entirely on the conference they play in. Again, it needs to be repeated.
If having a season canceled isn’t a hardship, there’s no such thing as a hardship.
Is there going to be resistance from the coaches? Absolutely. There should be. If I were Ryan Day or James Franklin, I’d be calling your office every hour to make my case for why you shouldn’t allow players to get immediate eligibility. They don’t deserve to have their rosters gutted, and if other Power 5 conferences have a football season, they’ll take one on the chin for no fault of their own.
But coaches, whether you know this or not, are getting paid millions of dollars. Their jobs are safe. The players, whether you know this or not, aren’t all at their current schools because of their specific academic interests. Well, if they were normal students who were strictly enrolled for academics, they could transfer elsewhere and immediately take classes to help them advance their post-college careers.
I say this all because I know that you’re going to take your sweet time on this. You’ve got a knack for that. Knowing your groggy self, you’re probably not getting out of bed in hopes that the rest of the Power 5 calls it quits on the fall season.
The problem is that you can’t afford to hibernate for another month and delay on a ruling like this. Athletes with canceled seasons need to be able to seek other options before the fall starts. Kids deserve the freedom to not waste a year of their athletic primes because of where they went to school. That’s reality if some conferences have fall sports and others don’t.
Hopefully, NCAA, you’re awake now. You’ve got some work to do.