Amid the concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus, the NCAA made a circuitous decision to cancel not just the postseason tournaments for basketball and other winter sports, but they also cancelled the remaining portion of the season for spring sports. For WNMU, this meant the men's and women's golf and tennis teams along with softball saw an abrupt end to their seasons.
The vast majority of student-athletes will not go on to play professionally so for some this means the end of their competitive athletic careers. While they knew it would happen eventually, to have it come sooner than expected deals a blow to the students. Most of these sports at WNMU were having competitive seasons and they have now lost out on an opportunity to compete for championships.
Missing out on the camaraderie and competition of college athletics is only part of the picture, not only for the student-athlete but the institution and the community as well. Athletic Director Scott Noble sat down for an interview to discuss the impacts of not playing out the season.
The NCAA has waived some of the rules regarding eligibility and scholarships as it relates to seniors and lower classmen. Seniors that participated in sports that were cancelled will have an opportunity to return for another year of eligibility. According to Noble, the decision is not easy.
While the NCAA will allow the university to renew a student-athlete's scholarship for another year, most students do not receive a 'full ride' athletic scholarship. That means the student will have to make a decision to return to school and pay another $6-10,000 for the year, whether through taking out student loans or finding other ways to pay.
If the student was on pace to graduate this May or next December, Noble said that presents another problem. Would that student take classes just to remain eligible for athletic competition or would they be able to work towards a graduate degree? Often students, whether athletes or not, will attend another university to work on an advanced degree. That's especially true if their undergrad institution doesn't offer the degree they desire.
Essentially, next year, there will be 2 freshman classes. Those students who were freshman this year and the new students entering their first year of college. Not only will the spring sports have to worry about finding scholarship money for what is essentially a 5th class of students, but when the 2 classes of freshmen graduate, the spring sports could lose 8-12 athletes rather than the usual 4-6. That would put a lot of pressure on recruiting athletes especially for golf and tennis that don't have a large pool of applicants from which to choose each year.
Noble pointed out that WNMU's athletic budget is already on the low end of the scale as compared to other Division II schools, making the strain of adding another group of scholarships to the budget very difficult. Noble wants every senior that would like to return to do so, but finding the additional money will be difficult. Noble doesn't have an estimate as to how many students may stay for the 5th year, but will make sure those that want to stay will have their athletic scholarship available.
Finally, the economic impact on the community will be significant. Teams and their fans visiting Silver City for competitions spend about $80-100,000 on hotels and meals each spring. This also includes prospective students and their families that visit WNMU on recruiting trips.