While college athletes who had their spring seasons cut short due to COVID-19 are expected to be granted an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, Troy athletics director Brent Jones acknowledges there are many more questions than answers at this point.
“So if they’re a senior, they’ll come back as a senior,” Jones said. “If they’re a junior, they’ll come back as a junior and so on. Do they get to keep their stats (from this year)? How do you document this year?”
No matter how the NCAA ultimately breaks it down, schools will be affected in different ways depending on how many players take advantage of the extra year. The sanctioning body announced on Friday it is scheduled to discuss and vote on the issue March 30.
“For baseball, you have 11.7 scholarships,” Jones said. “Now you’re only allowed to have 35 players. Now you might have 50.
“What if a school down the road — such as Alabama State or Auburn or South Alabama — what if they only have four seniors and they have 40 (on roster) and we have 50?
“What are the increased costs? What about the housing? There are so many fundamental questions that everybody needs to know.
“But at the end of the day, if we just focus on what is right for student-athletes, and that’s at the core, we’ll know we’re in the right place.”
The Troy baseball team had 11 seniors on its roster this season. Some will likely return, others will enter the work force.
Trojans’ coach Mark Smartt will discuss the options with all of them at the proper time.
“All 11 are in a unique place in their journey,” Smartt said. “I’ve got six fifth-year seniors that all were either going to graduate in May or already graduated and are in grad school.
“So for any athlete that is going to graduate this May, for them to return as a senior next year, they would have to enroll in grad school. I’m not sure that’s a path they want to choose. That’s an independent path they’ve got to make.
“Graduate school is a two-year commitment and they only get to play one year. What does that look like for that one individual player that’s in that market?”
Smartt does believe the ones who still have some semesters to complete will likely return for another season of baseball.
“I think all of our fourth-year seniors have some school remaining, meaning they’re not graduating in May,” Smartt said. “And that’s normal. Usually it takes nine semesters for a Division I athlete, occasionally 10.
“So they’re going to come back to the fall and typically graduate in December and move into the work force. I would venture to say all five of those guys are going to say, ‘I’m back. Can’t wait.’ But there’s no guarantee of that.
“I expect the NCAA to lay forth the ground rules that we’ll be able to play with. Without having details and facts, every player who wants to return will be able to return here and we will make it work. If I have to deal with 47 players, by gosh we’ll figure it out.”
Troy softball coach Beth Mullins is planning to have exit interviews with her seniors on Monday.
“When it comes to our seniors, we’re going to let them make that decision on their own,” Mullins said. “Most of them have been planning for the future. We’ve got grad school, internships and jobs that are waiting on a lot of people (throughout college athletics).
“I think it’s going to be a case-by-case thing. We’re all going to have to chart new territory when all of this settles down.”
For Jones, who was promoted to athletics director last June when Jeremy McClain left for Southern Mississippi, what he and other college leaders are trying to navigate through now is unprecedented.
“There is no blueprint, there is no book,” Jones said. “The emotions are real. Our hearts break for our student-athletes, for our staff, our coaches and our fans as well. That’s where we’re at right now.”
Despite it all, Jones is optimistic.
“I firmly believe that Troy University and Troy athletics will emerge even stronger and even more united,” Jones said.