The NCAA Division I Council voted on Monday evening in favor of allowing all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the coronavirus cutting all seasons short.
“I was a little surprised they gave an extra year to everyone,” Missouri State baseball head coach Keith Guttin said. “I had a relatively good feeling they’d give seniors the year of relief, but I was surprised they’d allow all athletes the eligibility. I think it’s a great thing.”
Missouri State senior Ben Whetstone had a similar reaction. The starting first baseman said he knew seniors would get a year back, but he was surprised to learn every athlete would receive eligibility relief.
“I’m glad they ruled it the way they did,” Whetstone said. “I think it’ll be a good thing for teams across the country and for our team especially.”
Fellow teammate and senior Jack Duffy was not as surprised at the council’s ruling. He said he always thought they would give everyone back their season because “that’s the reasonable thing to do.”
The specifications of the new legislation include increased scholarships and roster size. Returning seniors will not count towards a program’s 11.7 scholarships.
It will be up to each university to decide where the money goes. Returning seniors can receive up to, but not exceed, the scholarship amount they had in 2020.
Only three of Missouri State’s eight seniors were on scholarship. It doesn’t mean only three will return, but it also doesn’t mean all eight will come back.
“Everyone’s situation is different,” Guttin said. “Now that we have a little more clarity on what the NCAA wants to do, we can follow up with our guys and see what their desires are.”
“We’ve got one guy getting married, one wanting to enlist, one just finished a degree and a couple of guys working towards an MBA,” Guttin said. “We just have to see where their heads are at.”
Whetstone said he isn’t ready to comment on where he’s at in making a decision but graduate school is a factor. The Kansas City native said his program will take him through next spring, but it’s a possibility for him to finish classes online while back home.
“It’s been a whirlwind of emotions, trying to figure out if I’ve already played my last baseball game ever,” Whetstone said. “I’m not quite sure how it’ll play out yet, but I think I’ve got a little bit of gas left in the tank.”
Duffy, who will graduate with his Bachelor’s degree in May, said the NCAA’s decision has made him consider continuing his education at Missouri State.
“I think what I’m probably going to end up doing is get my MBA,” Duffy said. “When they came out with the decision, all my anger and frustration went away because I knew that wasn’t the last time I’d get to play there.”
The council’s ruling accommodates for the influx of returning seniors by lifting the roster cap. Returning seniors will not be part of a team’s 35-man roster in order to allow for new recruits.
Now that returning seniors can potentially keep their positions, it is possible for incoming recruits to feel as though there isn’t an open spot for them on a team.
“I talked with one incoming recruit, and of course he was curious what it would mean for him if the seniors returned,” Guttin said. “I don’t anticipate losing any recruits because of the seniors, though it is possible.”
The decision also affects current freshman, sophomore and junior baseball Bears. Guttin said younger guys may feel blocked for playing time if seniors decide to come back.
“There’s definitely going to be some fluidity to the roster,” Guttin said. “I think it’d be great to have some of these experienced guys back. They have credibility and leadership skills, so it’d be a big plus for us.”
Guttin said he’ll speak with his seniors, find out what their plans are and then take it to the university.
It is up to the administration to say how much extra money it will allow to be given out, but Guttin said he feels confident Missouri State will accept the returners.
“From everything I gathered through our conversations, we (Missouri State athletics administration) were in favor of this legislation,” Guttin said.
While questions regarding transfers still remain, Guttin said he feels good about the direction of the program.
“This was the best-case scenario for the student-athletes, and it’s great they are allowing institutions the flexibility on how they want to handle things,” Guttin said. “The line you usually hear from the NCAA is they want to do what’s best for the student-athlete, and I think that’s exactly what they did.”