Missouri senior Eli Daniel pitches in the seventh inning

Missouri senior Eli Daniel pitches in the seventh inning against Ole Miss on March 7 at Mizzou Softball Stadium. The NCAA announced Monday that it is giving its spring athletes an extra year of eligibility, but Daniel hasn’t announced her plans yet.

It’s not often that an NCAA decision is widely appreciated, but a major move made by the organization relieved some strains faced by the spring sports athletes at Missouri.

The NCAA announced Monday that its Division I council voted to allow schools to grant spring athletes an extra year of eligibility, a motion made after all of its spring sports championships were canceled in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only will athletes in their senior year be able to continue their careers, but schools can self-apply a one-year extension of eligibility across their entire team roster, effectively extending the five-year limit to complete four years of eligibility mandated by NCAA guidelines.

“The Council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said council chair M. Grace Calhoun in the NCAA’s statement Monday. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”

In terms of how the decision affects Missouri softball’s personnel, nearly all of the team had years of eligibility remaining anyway before the 2019-20 season was lost. But the program’s lone senior, pitcher Eli Daniel, will now be able to play a full final season in 2020-21.

Some ambiguity remains despite the NCAA’s ruling, namely in financial implications of granting athletes another year onto their scholarships.

The decision tweaked financial aid rules to allow programs to have more players on scholarship than normal to account both for incoming recruits and athletes in their final years of eligibility during the 2021 season. Schools will be able to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships in 2020-21 but are not required to cover the identical amounts of financial aid given to those who would’ve exhausted their eligibility in 2019-20.

In other words, schools that can’t afford to foot the whole bill may be unable to give those in their final seasons a full financial aid package. It’s unclear if Missouri would struggle to do so, but Missourian reporting in March showed that the athletic department — already operating at a deficit — is projected to lose out on significant revenue due to the COVID-19 cancellations.

Once Missouri softball is able to get back to playing again, another question remains to be answered: The status of the Tigers’ postseason ban.

The NCAA in November upheld sanctions on Missouri’s athletic program, including a one-year postseason ban for the football, softball and baseball teams due to be served during the 2019-20 academic year.

As there’s now no postseason to be played, the Tigers’ long battle with the NCAA may take yet another twist. At the moment, it’s unknown if the organization will extend 2019-20 postseason bans to the 2020-21 season, with no timetable set on a decision.

  • Briar is a fall 2019 sports reporter covering Columbia College athletics for the Columbia Missourian. He is studying print and digital news. Reach him at bdn627@gmail.com.

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