Mike Jensen: NCAA decision is good news for college spring-sport athletes, although not best news for high school spring-sport athletes

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PHILADELPHIA — Kenny Levari, a senior baseball player at New Jersey’s St. Augustine Prep, had just gotten off the phone Tuesday with his future baseball coach at Old Dominion University. The gist of the call: Levari shouldn’t worry. He’d still have his full college scholarship. This week’s NCAA announcement wouldn’t impact that.

“He just told me, ‘Come in and be ready to play the field and pitch,’ ” Levari said.

The call was helpful, because the landscape keeps shifting, even as Levari misses out on his last high school season. The NCAA announced Monday that spring-sports college athletes would all get their lost seasons back, Division I joining previous decisions by Division II and III, allowing an extra year of eligibility. It’s the right thing to do.

Just not the best thing for everyone.

Imagine you’re a spring-sport high school senior. You also just lost the last season of your high school life. Can’t get it back. You wouldn’t try to get it back. Off to college you go. Let’s say you’ve already signed your NCAA letter of intent. That full or partial scholarship still will be waiting for you.

But playing time … not so fast.

Sure, if you’re good enough, you’ll play. We’re not talking about the bluest chippers. Look, however, at the college class of 2024 as a whole. Suddenly, you’ll be joined with the college class of 2023 for the next four years. College seniors can return next season. But look beyond that. Juniors will stay juniors, eligibility-wise. Sophomores will stay sophomores. Freshmen will stay freshmen.

All high school seniors can do is join a massive double-class and ride it out. Yes, there are bigger problems in this world right now. That doesn’t change this.

Again, the NCAA is doing this right. If you apply “greatest good for the good number” principles, this decision was applied correctly.

There are other devils in the details. The NCAA gave everyone his or her eligibility, but said it couldn’t guarantee scholarship money. This also makes sense. All schools can’t afford to add an extra class of scholarships in this trying economic time.

What this allows, however, is decisions by coaches. This one is good enough to keep getting paid. That one, not so fast. This is just the way it has to be. Just understand that it’s different from the usual NCAA standard.

Back to the high school seniors. They could try to finagle the system by waiting a year, even going to prep school, joining the college class of 2025, which wouldn’t be a double class.

A bad idea in most cases, suggested one college athletic director.

“Prep school is big money unless you get a scholarship,” the athletic director pointed out. “If you signed and have a (college) scholarship, would you really give it back?”

A pretty important point in this uncertain time as colleges enter an entirely different economic sports era.

Levari made his own point: “I think they should give all the high school kids an extra year.”

Meaning, stay in high school another year?

“You should have the option,” Levari said. “Our last day was March 5. We’ll miss the last three months. And some are missing more. We end in the beginning of May. Some schools go to the end of June. That’s almost half the school year.”

To Levari, the class most impacted by the NCAA decision will be his class, this senior class. He personally feels he’ll be fine, and his versatility, the ability to pitch and play the field, could only help him. His coach told him some Old Dominion seniors are planning to move on since they already have jobs lined up.

We’ll repeat: This isn’t a big, big issue during a global coronavirus pandemic. It’s a little, little issue. Just one worth acknowledging and understanding.


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