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Hot Reads: NCAA’s Decisiveness Was a Luxury Only It Had

March 31, 2020

You don't see this written or hear this spoken often, but the NCAA got it right. First, with the cancellations. As hard as it must have been to cancel March Madness––not because it's more important than wrestling or gymnastics or softball or anything else, but because it contributes so much money that is then distributed to schools––it was the right decision. There's evidence that social distancing is working. The NCAA Tournament––even without fans, just based on the travel for teams and essential personnel alone––would've worked against that overall goal. 

As time has gone on, the decisions of conferences and eventually the NCAA to cancel across the board has gone from what some perceived as overly cautious to a smart bit of foresight.

Second example of acting decisively: The NCAA didn't delay in making its decision on eligibility for student-athletes in spring sports. It announced that "eligibility relief" was appropriate in the Council's eyes almost immediately, and then on Monday it made it official with a vote.

Nebraska softball coach Rhonda Revelle, who had yet to fully digest what it would mean for her team going forward when she made a radio appearance shortly after the decision, called it a "glimmer of sunshine in what otherwise is a cloudy sky."

While I'm not sure there was a perfect solution for all athletes available––the winter athletes on the brink of championships, to use the highest profile example, are out of luck––the NCAA decision at least offers certainty and a direction forward, two things in short supply at the moment. Athletes in spring sports will have the option of not losing a year of eligibility.

Schools also have an option here, which raised some eyebrows as well. Revelle, for example, had four seniors on the 2019–20 team. Those four seniors now have the option to return for 2021, though under the decisions schools are not obligated to match the same level of aid those athletes had this spring. In short, if you were a full-scholarship shortstop this spring there's no mandate that you have to be next spring.

If that seems harsh––and it absolutely would be for an athlete in that position––I suspect it's a reaction to the harsh financial realities some schools are expecting. Schools can keep seniors around for the season they missed and still add a new recruiting class, which is good, but the schools still need to be able to pay for it and we're only seeing the tip of the financial-impact iceberg here. The NCAA is distributing about a third of what it was expecting to in terms of revenue, we know that, but the actual impact is still to come.

The NCAA giving schools an option here says we want to do what's right, but it may not be possible in all cases. And that's with this all happening at the time of least impact in terms of scholarship cost for schools.

Just one of the spring sports Nebraska participates in, women's tennis, is a "head-count" sport in the parlance of the NCAA. That means there are only full-ride scholarships available for that sport. (Football, volleyball, basketball and women's gymnastics are also head-count sports.) All the others receive partial or "equivalency" scholarships.

To do the basic back-of-envelope math, Nebraska offers 82.3 total scholarships for spring sports. That's for the teams as whole, so, for the sake of argument, assume a fourth of those are seniors. That hypothetically puts Nebraska at 20.5 scholarships it would normally expect to come off the books that now could stay on. Minus women's tennis, which has eight total scholarships, some of those 20.5 scholarships would be partial.

Compare that to what could happen in a typical fall. Nebraska has 97 full scholarships out for football and volleyball. With a big senior class––which the Huskers don't have at the moment––the football team might lose 20 seniors in an average year, volleyball maybe three or four. The financial strain of the same NCAA decision for fall sports because of the full scholarships (and you can add in a small chunk of partials, too) would be significantly higher.

The point here is not to imply "good thing this didn't happen in the fall." Rather it's too note just how uncertain the months ahead for college athletics may be. Good for the NCAA for acting decisively, but the loophole with this decision on spring eligibility acknowledges that such decisiveness was a luxury only the NCAA had.

Staff Picks – No. 6

As I've tried to read more during this time (with mixed results), I've been looking for the perfect background music to play while I settle in with a book. (Yes, I'm that kind of person.) That playlist arrived last week via Aquarium Drunkard's "Beautiful Music in the Night."

Check out this backstory and tell me it isn't charming:

For years if you lived in Nashville you were lucky to have the soothing sounds of WAMB 1160 AM, playing glorious easy listening music from the past. But what was truly special about WAMB was their late night programming, from roughly 12 am to 5 am, dubbed ‘beautiful music in the night.’ During this time frame the station would play blocks of old reel to reel mix tapes assembled by the late Nashville radio personality Ken Bramming. Bramming had made these mixes of his own favorite late night music and as many Nashville residents can attest, these hours of soothing and sometimes eerie tunes were the perfect companion as the city slept (or didn’t if you were up listening.). . .

The 3-hour playlist more delivers on the promise above. It was compiled by William Tyler, who also happens to make great instrumental guitar music that soothes.

The Grab Bag

Today’s Song of Today

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