UMass AD Ryan Bamford vows to battle for extra eligibility for spring sports athletes 

  • University of Massachusetts athletic director Ryan Bamford DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2020 5:14:25 PM
Modified: 3/13/2020 5:14:10 PM

UMass athletics director Ryan Bamford wasted no time in supporting his spring student-athletes.

In the minutes after the NCAA canceled its spring sports championships Thursday afternoon due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Bamford tweeted, “no one likes things they can’t control & these decisions are gut-wrenching. To our spring sport seniors: in time, we will fight to reinstate your final year of eligibility.” Bamford said Friday he spoke with several of the 56 UMass athletes whose final year of eligibility was wiped out and the reaction was the same from most of them.

“They’re still in shock, I think we all are,” Bamford said. “It’s a shock because it’s for reasons that you can’t control. … It’s something that we don’t know how it’s going to affect us, obviously there’s a lot of panic and a lot of preparation. And I don’t think there’s anybody that thinks we did the wrong thing as a college sports environment or space. Everybody understands, agrees and respects the decision, but it’s hard to think that, especially for those seniors, there’s finality to their career, you can’t plan for that. So shock and disappointment and just general upset about the end and not being able to prepare for that.”

On Friday afternoon, the NCAA sent out a letter to its member institutions, telling the schools that “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.” The organization said the actual details of that plan would be hashed out over the coming weeks, but it likely will include a plan to help all four current classes enrolled recoup a year.

Bamford said he had spoken with two members of the NCAA’s Division I Council Coordination Committee to give them his thoughts, and he’s not surprised the notoriously slow-moving NCAA was quick to act in this situation.

“When everything broke (Thursday) and the NCAA canceled their championships, I was in touch with two of the members of that committee,” Bamford said. “I just said, ‘we have to be not only thinking about this, but talking about this as soon as possible’ … The NCAA got on it, they understood the enormity of the decision and how many people are impacted. It’s not just seniors, it’s every kid who plays inevitably loses a year of eligibility.”

Any plan to resolve this issue would have to include a change to the current NCAA roster and scholarship limits for each sport. Bamford said he expects it’ll take two or three academic years for the implications of the additional year of eligibility to filter through, especially with recruiting plans already in place for the next four years based on this season’s numbers.

What will also help is that some of these student-athletes might choose not to return to school. Bamford said he’s already spoken with some seniors who have decided to forgo that extra year and start on their post-athletic life either in graduate school or in the job market. The athletics director said he expects there will be hundreds of thousands of additional costs next year from honoring the scholarships of the student-athletes who do decide to return for an unexpected fifth year. However, the cancellation itself shouldn’t impact the athletics departments budget too severely, Bamford predicted, because there won’t be any costs for the next six-to-eight weeks without any games or travel for the department, overshadowing the loss in revenue streams.

The NCAA also instituted a dead period for recruiting on Friday through April 15, meaning coaches can only call and text with recruits and there cannot be any in-person visits either on or off campus. That should give the athletic directors, presidents, chancellors and other senior officials time to hash out solutions to several pressing issues across college athletics. Bamford said he hopes by the end of April to have a full plan on not only how the additional year of eligibility would work for spring athletes, but also progress conversations around name, image and likeness legislation that has already been passed or introduced in several state houses as well as driving the conversation around transfer reform with the NCAA’s Transfer Working Group scheduled to meet next month.

“Now that we’re in a dead period for competition and a dead period for recruiting, there’s a lot of questions that everybody wants answers to,” Bamford said. “We have to settle all of the things on our own campuses first, but in a week or two once those things are settled in terms of getting our kids settled academically and all of those ingredients, we can start making decisions based on really healthy discussions pretty quickly. I would anticipate that within the next six weeks, hopefully by the end of April, we’ll have a good, solid foundation for how we’re moving the collegiate sports model forward.”

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