JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the NCAA gathered the 41 member Division I council together to make a decision on how to handle student-athlete eligibility after the coronavirus forced the shutdown of all spring sports in March, Jacksonville University athletic director Alex Rickard-Gilbert was among the decision-makers directly involved with the process.
“I think nationally, we first heard about the NCAA’s direction about March 13,” Rickard-Gilbert said. “We saw something publicly from one of the subcommittees that said that they recommended we extend eligibility for spring sports and that they would consider a recommendation for winter sports. From that point, the ball really got rolling.”
There seemed to be a groundswell of support to give athletes form the spring sports and extra year of eligibility. That happened, but it wasn’t a straight line to the final plan.
“Formally, the recommendations came out in written form on or around March 24, so about a week before the formal vote,” Rickard-Gilbert said. “I thought I knew how it would come out. It ended out coming out that way but throughout the last week, it was not without its moments of uncertainty.”
Student-athletes from baseball, women’s beach volleyball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s lacrosse, women’s rowing, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s outdoor track & field, men’s volleyball and women’s water polo can all gain another year of eligibility after the decision was made this week.
“At the end of the day, I think we came out in a place that was the right place for our student-athletes, that is to allow our student-athletes and coaches to have that spring back,” Rickard-Gilbert said.
Some larger schools are impacted by the decision differently than smaller schools, like JU. All of the spring sports that JU offers are equivalency sports, where partial scholarships can be handed out.
“All of them aren’t fully funded. Most of them aren’t at that level,” Rickard-Gilbert said. “It really makes sense to provide to the student-athletes up to what they had this past year, so they can come back and get their last season. Because it’s the right thing to do, but in a time where we’re unsure across the country what higher-ed enrollment is going to look like, this idea that we’re going to have 20, 30 students-athletes coming back and paying something to the institution is revenue to the schools.”
Richard-Gilbert said that he estimates 26 or 27 of the approximately 50 seniors to come back for another year. At least one of those likely to return is JU’s shortstop Dakota Julylia.
“I think he’s planning on coming back and Dakota will be a sixth-year guy so he’ll be entering grad school,” Rickard-Gilbert said.
Richard-Gilbert also said that the decisions to not allow winter sports to gain an extra year of eligibility was based largely on the amount of the season that was played. For most winter sports, over 90 percent of the schedule had already played out, even if March Madness was canceled.