On Monday, the NCAA Division I Counsel voted to allow student-athletes in spring sports another year of eligibility. Winter sports athletes who didn’t get to compete for a championship will not be granted the same status.
The waiver will apply to baseball, softball, tennis, golf, outdoor track and field and men’s volleyball at BYU. Basketball, swimming and diving and gymnastics are considered winter sports.
There are details to work out but the scholarships offered to seniors who decide to come back will not count against current limits, which will allow universities to determine how much financial aid to give those seniors.
“The council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun said. “The board of governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”
This is great news for the BYU men’s volleyball team, which was ranked No. 1 in the country when the season was cancelled a couple of weeks ago.
It’s not-so-great news for the Cougar men’s basketball team, which missed out on an NCAA Tournament appearance when that event was also cancelled.
BYU is also unique because of its missionary program. Juggling rosters due to early returnees will be a complicated endeavor for all sports, including football. With 85 scholarships available, Cougar coaches are going to be busy crunching numbers.
Here’s a team-by-team look at BYU spring sports and how this decision could affect them.
Men’s Volleyball: BYU was 17-1 coming off a split at then-No. 1 Hawaii, which pushed the Cougars into the top spot the following week. The Cougars had six MPSF matches left to play after running through the first half of league play undefeated. It was likely BYU would have hosted the MPSF Tournament and could have earned the top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars had five seniors, including starters Wil Stanley (setter), Zach Eschenberg (outside hitter) and, Miki Jauhiainen (middle blocker). Stanley has already voiced his willingness to return for another year. Eschenberg, if he returns, would be in the same graduating class as his wife, Kennedy, who plays for the BYU women’s volleyball team. Jauhiainen is majoring in computer science and is one of the top student-athletes in the program. He could return for an advanced degree or might have opportunities to play professionally in his native Finland or elsewhere.
Three other underclassmen – juniors Gabi Garcia Fernandez (Puerto Rico) and Filipe de Brito Ferreira (Brazil) along with sophomore Davide Gardini (Italy) – will also likely be offered opportunities to play overseas professionally.
Baseball: The Cougars were extremely young this year and had posted a 7-9 record heading into West Coast Conference play when the season was cancelled. There are only three seniors on the roster – pitchers Jarod Lessar and Ben Weese along with catcher Abraham Valdez. Freshman Cutter Clawson, who was leading the team in hitting (.550, seven hits in 20 at bats), plans on serving a church mission. College baseball rosters can be tricky because of the major league draft, which is typically in early June. Last year, sophomore shortstop Jackson Cluff was drafted in the sixth round by the Washington Nationals and is currently assigned to the Single A Hagerstown Suns club.
Softball: Gordon Eakin’s crew had played a very difficult preseason schedule and was 14-9 overall. All of those games had been played on the road; BYU wasn’t scheduled to play at home until March 19 against Montana. Only two seniors are listed on the roster, including outfielder Rylee Jensen-McFarland. Through 23 games, Jensen-McFarland was hitting .441 with 23 RBI and six home runs. Freshman Hunter Ava was off to a great start as well, hitting .324 with eight home runs and 28 RBI.
Men’s Golf: The Cougars were primed for a big year behind senior Peter Kuest, who was ranked as the No. 1 golfer in the country during the fall season. Kuest has already decided to turn pro. BYU had two other seniors on the roster in Spencer Dunaway and Rhett Rasmussen. Head coach Bruce Brockbank said two of his juniors – Kelton Hirsch and Chad Hardy – were likely to leave for dental and law school, respectively.
Women’s Golf: BYU had four top 5 finishes in the first two months of the spring season before it was cancelled. The Cougars roster lists just one senior in Anna Kennedy. Sophomore Allysha Mae Mateo won the Coeur d’Alene Collegiate event in September and tied for third at the BYU Entrada Classic in Saint George on March 10.
Men’s Tennis: The Cougars had their last 11 events cancelled after posting a 6-7 overall record. BYU was coming off a 4-0 win against Utah in Salt Lake City when the cancellations began. Three seniors – David Ball (5-7 overall), Sean Hill (18-5) and Sam Tullis (12-8) – will be faced with the decision to stay for another year or to move on.
Women’s Tennis: BYU was 8-3 overall with three straight wins against New Mexico, Houston and Arizona when the season was cancelled. Russian Polina Malykh (6-3) and Kate Cusick Truman (6-10) are the only two seniors on the roster.
Track and Field: The Cougars were actually at the indoor championships in Albuquerque when the meet was cancelled. Per usual, the BYU men’s team was going to be very strong in the distance races during the outdoor season and there were several outstanding individual athletes on the women’s side that would have competed for All-American status.
Track rosters are very fluid but most recently the men’s team had 15 seniors including triple jumper Rickey Fantroy, miler Talem Franco and steeplechaser Jacob Heslington.
There are 17 seniors on the women’s roster, including standout distance runners Eric Birk-Jarvis (first team All-American last year in the steeplechase) and Whittni Orton.
BYU’s top athletes were still working out in hopes of earning Olympic qualifying marks but the summer games have now been moved to 2021.