NCAA grants an extra year of eligibility to winter sports athletes

DePaul+women%27s+basketball+senior+Deja+Church+drives+past+a+Marquette+defender+during+the+Big+East+championship+game+on+March+9.

Alexa Sandler

DePaul women’s basketball senior Deja Church drives past a Marquette defender during the Big East championship game on March 9.

The NCAA has granted all Division I winter sports athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the possibility of the season being impacted by Covid-19. A similar decision was made for fall sports athletes, and the NCAA gave an extra year of eligibility to athletes in spring sports after their season was canceled in March. 

The NCAA’s Division I council announced its decision on Wednesday as men’s and women’s basketball teams were beginning their first practices of the season. With this decision, players are allowed to play a full slate of games in the 2020-21 season and still be allowed to return for another season. 

“The pandemic will continue to impact winter sport seasons in ways we can’t predict,” said Council Chair M. Grace Calhoun, athletics director at University of Pennsylvania. “Council members opted to provide for winter sport student-athletes the same flexibility given spring and fall sports previously. The actions today ensure the continuation of local decision-making in the best interest of each institution and its student-athletes.”

The NCAA also recently pushed back the start of the 2020-21 college basketball season to Nov. 25, and is giving teams more flexibility with scheduling. Instead of teams having to play 30 or more regular-season games, programs are now given an option as to how many games they want to play. 

According to Jeff Goodman of Stadium, if a player transfers, then their aid counts against the team’s scholarship limit — which sits at 13 for basketball. But if a returning senior doesn’t transfer, then their extra year does not count against the limit. 

When the returning seniors have left after the 2020-21 season, then teams must return to the 13 scholarship limit. 

For DePaul, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have multiple seniors on the roster this season that could possibly return for another year. On the men’s team, the Blue Demons have five seniors on scholarship for the upcoming season: Charlie Moore, Jaylen Butz, Brian Patrick, Ray Salnave and Pauly Paulicap.

“While we are excited and anticipating a full schedule of competition this season, we know the path will be abnormal,” men’s basketball head coach Dave Leitao said in a statement. “The anxiety and not knowing what is going to happen in the next few months and how that will affect the season schedule is a challenge for all of us and especially our players. This opportunity for some flexibility in the future for the players provides some relief amid all of the uncertainty around us.”

With the possibility of returning these five seniors, DePaul already has five commitments for the 2021 class, which would expand their roster well beyond the normal 13 players. Currently, the Blue Demons have the No. 4 recruiting class for 2021, according to 247 Sports. 

The women’s team, on the other hand, has three seniors on this season’s roster: Deja Church, Dee Bekelja and Kiara Dallmann. All three players would be eligible to return for another season and give head coach Doug Bruno a boost to next year’s team. 

Last season, the Blue Demons won both the Big East regular season title and the conference tournament championship. But their season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with the NCAA Tournament being canceled, which left seniors Chante Stonewall and Kelly Campbell to end their DePaul careers without one last run. 

“Whenever an NCAA decision benefits the student-athlete, it is a positive and constructive decision,” women’s basketball head coach Doug Bruno said in a statement. “Our 2019-20 DePaul women’s basketball team earned its way into the 2020 NCAA Tournament and then because of Covid-19, lost the opportunity to compete. A college athlete’s career is very short and finite. It is only fair that all student-athletes losing competitive opportunities to the coronavirus be granted an extra season of eligibility. My only regret is that last year’s seniors were not included in this ruling. I truly believe last year’s seniors should be included in this decision.”