Coaches adapting to new eligibility guidelines

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HARRISONBURG, Va. -- Spring sports coaches at James Madison University are adapting to new eligibility guidelines from the NCAA in response to COVID-19.

JMU spring sports coaches are adapting to new NCAA eligibility guidelines in response to COVID-19.

The NCAA recently announced spring student-athletes can have an extra season of eligibility after the 2020 campaign was canceled early due to coronavirus. At JMU, spring sports coaches are supportive of the NCAA's decision but are also adapting to its effect on their programs.

JMU baseball head coach Marlin Ikenberry told WHSV he expects around four seniors from the 2020 squad will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility and return in 2021.

"We haven't put a timetable on them telling us," said Ikenberry. "That's the nice thing about the rule. Really, more importantly, trying to figure out their path and try to figure out what's going to make them have a productive year."

While Ikenberry supports the NCAA's decision, he, his coaching staff, and the returning players are now tasked with making the extra year work on the baseball field and in the classroom.

"Probably the hardest thing to try and navigate is what are these seniors are going to do, academically," said Ikenberry. "Because...their plan was not to come back. Their plan was to graduate. Some were going to get opportunities to play in Major League Baseball and that's a whole other conversation."

JMU softball head coach Loren LaPorte is also working with her returning seniors, Odicci Alexander, Kate Gordon, and Madison Naujokas, to make the extra year of eligibility on the field fit in with their academic plans.

"Kate (Gordon) is planning on graduating in the spring while Madison and Odicci, they are going to pick up a minor, finish their internship next year.," said LaPorte. "So Kate is exploring continuing education, graduate school, that type of thing."

The extra year of eligibility is not just for seniors. Every players whose 2020 season was canceled early due to COVID-19 can add another season to their college career. Projected future rosters could now be changing, which could lead to some tough decisions for coaches in recruiting over the next few years.

"It's really the juniors in high school that are going to see the fallout of this," said JMU women's lacrosse head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe. "Do we choose to commit to the athletes who are already on the roster with the finances or do we choose to look forward to the future?"

LaPorte added: "It's definitely going to have an impact down the road. Especially for the 2021, 2022, and 2023 (recruiting classes). There's so much unknown right now. And once we start figuring things out and what's best for the program and student-athlete, it's going to work itself out."

JMU expects between 12-15 seniors to return in 2021 for an extra year of eligibility across the Dukes' eight spring sports. The total cost of scholarships for the returning seniors is approximately $250,000.