COVID-19 nixed spring sports; now Philly-area Division I schools decide what to do with senior athletes

Dave Uram
May 14, 2020 - 11:53 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — College athletes have been training for their entire lives to compete at the highest level of their sports. To many, their senior season is the last stretch of competitive athletics they experience before entering the next phase of adulthood. But the coronavirus pandemic wiped out most, if not all, of everyone’s spring seasons.

As a result of that, in March, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for spring athletes. However, this did not guarantee returning seniors the scholarships they were previously granted. That was left up to the respective universities and colleges, who have the option to carry more scholarships for next season.

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Some Division I schools in the Philly area have been making decisions over the past two months, while others are still finalizing their plans. Temple was ahead of the game in terms of honoring scholarships of every senior who decides to come back for an extra year.

“We were thinking about that even before the NCAA passed this legislation, because we could see it coming down the pike,” Larry Dougherty, senior associate athletic director for strategic communications, said.

Dougherty said the mindset of Temple’s athletic director, Dr. Patrick Kraft, was to make sure the department did all it could for athletes affected by the shutdown of college sports, regardless of whether they were winter or spring participants. (Winter athletes weren’t granted an extra year, even though the end of their season was cancelled.)

“And our athletic director was really being, as he always is, looking out for our student athletes’ welfare and trying to do the best we can for them in this time of crisis — because, at the end of the day, it’s all about our student-athletes,” Dougherty said.

The abrupt cancellation of a season in its infancy is certainly tough to accept.

“What was even more difficult was how we had to quickly social distance,” Dougherty said. “We didn’t really have the chance to comfort these student athletes because we were worried about their safety, and the university as a whole worried about the safety of all of our students, and trying to quickly get them out of harms way, so to speak, and get them home to their families. …

“Some student athletes took it better than others. I think they all persevered, as they would, because they’re used to overcoming and I’m proud of how they’ve handled this crisis.”

Dougherty explained it’s not just the school making a decision about what to with returning spring seniors for next season, it’s the athletes as well. Some might have jobs lined up after graduation, so choosing to continue some form of education for another year of competitive sports isn’t an easy, no-brainer choice. He said the school has been able to assist the students with their decisions — coaches, tutors and mentors, on athletic and academic strategy; and mental health professionals on coping with stress.

“We have a lot of support in place for them,” Dougherty said. “At the end of the day, we want to give them all those tools to make the proper decision for what’s best for them.”

La Salle University’s situation is similar to Temple’s. A LaSalle representative said by email that the university is extending the opportunity for spring seniors to come back for next school year, which includes scholarships.

St. Joseph’s University released a statement Wednesday announcing that, as of now, around 30 senior spring athletes are returning and will be given athletic aid. The statement added that aid will be accommodated through the current financial aid budget for the upcoming academic year.

A Villanova University representative said by email that they are doing their best to work within budget to welcome everyone back. Some athletes and coaches are still deciding, but others have committed to returning. Asked if that includes guaranteed scholarships, the representative said spring coaches are still evaluating everything and hope to have rosters and budgets confirmed in the weeks ahead.

A Drexel representative said by email that the university is working with each athlete individually on their options. They’re expecting a number of them to return and hope to give them an opportunity to make up a lost spring season, despite the current uncertainty.