Extra year of eligibility positive but also challenging for JMU

By  | 

HARRISONBURG, Va. -- The 2020 spring sports season at James Madison University was off to a great start when play was halted due to COVID-19.

Spring sports seniors at JMU can return for an extra year of eligibility after the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19.

"I think the reality was it was a really good spring," said Kevin Warner, who serves as JMU's Assistant A.D. for Communications. "We had a good spring going."

JMU baseball had a 10-6 overall record while the softball team was 13-6 overall with multiple wins over Power Five opponents. JMU women's lacrosse was nationally ranked and had won five straight games before the season was cancelled. Meanwhile, the men's and women's golf and tennis programs had been experiencing success while women's track and field was just about to start its outdoor campaign. However, all competition at JMU was shut down on March 13 due to COVID-19.

Coaches and players, especially seniors, were left wondering about their future when good news came Monday evening. The NCAA announced spring sports athletes who had their 2020 season canceled could retain an extra year of eligibility.

"The fact that they'll get to finish their careers, competing and finishing out that senior year," said JMU Director of Athletics Jeff Bourne. "20-30 years from now that's what is going to be critically important to them."

JMU expects 12-15 student-athletes to return next season for an extra year of eligibility across the Dukes' eight spring sports. With those seniors returning for another year and a new freshman class still expected to arrive in the fall, it presents financial challenges. The expected cost of the 12-15 extra scholarships for returning seniors is anticipated to be around $250,000. The does not include other potential added costs such as additional uniforms and a bigger travel budget with a larger roster than previously expected.

"We tried to be intentional with the spring budgets," said Bourne. "As of (Tuesday) we put a complete freeze on all athletic budgets for the rest of the year and if we were able to do that, we end up saving something in the area of $350,000 this year which we can help push into next year to address additional expenses."

JMU and other athletic programs around the country are also dealing with the financial fallout of the cancellation of the NCAA Division I men's basketball tournament. The NCAA will be distributing $375 million less than expected after the event was canceled. Only $225 million of the budgeted $600 million will be sent out to members schools with the tournament shut down.

While JMU and other schools may face financial challenges with college athletics on hold due to COVID-19, administrators still support the NCAA's decision to allow an extra year of eligibility for spring sports student-athletes.

"I'm happy for our student-athletes who were graduating seniors," said Bourne. "The emphasis (is) really on them and allowing them that opportunity to come back and get the last year of eligibility."