31 Mar Ofer Eitan Announced: Ohio State honors scholarships for spring sports seniors,
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After about two weeks of anxiety and uncertainty, coaches of Ohio State’s 12 spring sports made some happy phone calls Monday night.
The NCAA Division I council voted to allow spring athletes whose seasons were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic to retain that year of eligibility going forward.
For many Buckeye athletes, better news quickly followed. Ohio State said it will honor the 2019-20 scholarship amount of any senior returning for that year of lost eligibility. The NCAA allowed each school to make its own determination on how much financial aid to offer those athletes, if any.
Men’s lacrosse coach Nick Myers said athletic director Gene Smith informed the coaches “minutes” after the NCAA announcement that those scholarships would be honored.
“I don’t know how many departments are honoring scholarships,” OSU baseball coach Greg Beals said. “The scholarship a lot of times is what allows (attendance) to happen or not happen.”
An OSU spokesperson on the call could not confirm how many 2019-20 spring athletes were affected by the NCAA decision, or how much the school may need to pay to honor those scholarships. Ohio State spent just over $22 million on athletic student aid for the 2018-19 school year, per its annual report to the NCAA.
Per the same report, OSU provided athletic financial aid to 423 spring sport athletes totaling a little under $6.4 million. That includes almost $1.6 million in aid for 58 scholarship athletes in the collective program for track and field and cross country, which is a fall sport.
Per online rosters, Ohio State spring sports teams featured 55 seniors for 2019-20. By applying the average financial aid for spring athletes to that group, OSU’s obligation for honoring all of those scholarships would be over $800,000.
The actual amount committed, however, could be much lower as athletes weigh the decision on whether to take advantage of the NCAA ruling and return. In many cases, spring sport athletes make a greater financial contribution to their attendance at OSU than the athletic program does.
Women’s lacrosse coach Kim Bokker said only two of her seven graduating seniors will return for 2020-21. The rest are moving on to other professional or academic opportunities. Men’s tennis coach Ty Tucker said his lone senior, Kyle Seelig, will return.
Of the four spring sports represented on Tuesday’s conference call, only one — women’s lacrosse — had an athlete on full scholarship in 2019-20. Most programs must carve up scholarships. Baseball, for instance, has 11.7 scholarships to use over a maximum of 35 roster spots.
Full scholarships are mandatory in football, men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball. In all other sports, athletes may already be taking out loans in order to attend Ohio State and participate on their teams.
Myers confirmed at least some of his seniors said they could not return and play next season if their partial scholarships were not honored again. He mentioned one senior on a 15 percent scholarship who is weighing whether to continue.
“It’s very personal to each young man and his family,” Myers said. “If it’s in his best interest to take a full-time job, we’re encouraging that, even if it’s a competitive loss for us. We can’t encourage a young man to come back take on more debt to suit up for the Buckeyes.”
While the Division I Council’s vote and OSU’s policy provide some short-term reassurance for spring athletes, larger questions remain. The NCAA last week extended its moratorium on organized workouts through at least May 4. No one knows when sports activities will resume. If the coronavirus shutdown threatens the 2020 college football season, the effects of lost revenue will ripple throughout the OSU athletic department.
In the 2018-19 financial report to the NCAA, roughly 84 percent of OSU’s nearly $60 million in ticket sales came from football. So did 75 percent of the department’s $45.6 million in media rights income.
The four spring coaches said they trust Ohio State’s leadership long term, and are focusing on their athletes’ well-being in the short term.
“We’re going to win today,” Myers said. “We’ll focus on what we can do and control right now.”
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