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A Grip on Sports: NCAA gives back a year of eligibility lost to the pandemic, but with some caveats and unresolved costs

Gonzaga’s Ryan Sullivan (40) singles against Oregon State during an NCAA baseball game on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 in Surprise, Ariz. The senior is among many local college athletes that will be affected by Monday’s vote by the NCAA to give college athletes who compete in spring sports such as baseball, softball and lacrosse a way to get back the season they lost. (Jennifer Stewart / AP)
Gonzaga’s Ryan Sullivan (40) singles against Oregon State during an NCAA baseball game on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020 in Surprise, Ariz. The senior is among many local college athletes that will be affected by Monday’s vote by the NCAA to give college athletes who compete in spring sports such as baseball, softball and lacrosse a way to get back the season they lost. (Jennifer Stewart / AP)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • With little in the way of original sports news to discuss these days, a lot of us are talking about the past. They collide today. At least here.

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• Many newspapers are running a lot of “on this date” features as a way of keeping connected with their readers. Good idea, even if many of the happenstances are as relevant to most of us as say, Julius Caesar.

“John Wooden? Isn’t he the guy in all those western movies my grandpa used to watch?”

No, Dash, he isn’t. But he does figure prominently in our discussion this morning about the NCAA’s decision to allow schools the opportunity to allow back spring sports seniors another season of eligibility next year.

Let’s summarize. The coronavirus hits just before March Madness. That American tradition is lost. So are all sports, from high school to pros. The NCAA, which cancels its spring championships, studies whether or not to allow athletes who lost a year of eligibility another shot at their sport. It’s going to cost a lot. Meanwhile, the organization realizes its insurance doesn’t cover the entire cost of the lost basketball revenue. Which brings us to yesterday.

The NCAA Division I Council made a decision. Winter sports’ athletes are out of luck. They may not have had their championship round, but they had most of their season, so see ya. Spring sports athletes, however, will receive another year of eligibility. Even seniors, who may graduate, can return, but how much scholarship money, if any, they receive is up to each school.

Schools everywhere praised the decision. Finding a way to pay for it will be tough, though, and has been at the forefront of many discussions already.

We suggested a radical solution the other day, adding an extra round to next year’s NCAA Division I basketball tournament and using the revenue to fund the extra cost. That will never happen, however. The word radical and the NCAA mix together as well as social gatherings and this current crisis.

More than likely there will be a lot of discussions among spring sport coaches and athletes between now and next January. The best seniors will move on to a professional career. The worst ones were receiving little if any aid already and might be worth keeping. It’s the ones in the middle, the ones with fewer options, the middling reliever in baseball, the backup outfielder in softball, the fourth-best tennis player, they are the ones who will be told there is no money to bring them back.

That’s too bad. College athletics, especially non-revenue sports (which is the very definition of spring sports), are supposed to be about education, not just wins and losses. And education comes in many forms.

Learning how to be successful in life, that’s part of what sports like tennis and track teach. Learning how to get along in group settings, softball and baseball are good at that. Learning how compete while staying true to your ethical compass, that’s taught on the golf course all the time.

Such sports help turn out good citizens. That’s what they do. And it’s what we all need. Any chance to drive home that knowledge is important.

The lessons I learned over the four years of playing college baseball enriched my life. They made me, in large part, “me” over the past 40 years. There is little chance I would have become who I am without them.

Forty-five years ago today I was a lowly freshman walk-on catcher, trying to fit in with a UC Irvine baseball team that was coming off back-to-back NCAA Division II titles. On this day we were on a bus. We were headed from Reno, where we had just played a series in what, up to then, was the coldest baseball games I had ever experienced, to Stanford, where we had a doubleheader scheduled.

Why do I remember that? Mainly because the bus driver had found the NCAA title game on the radio. UCLA vs. Louisville. John Wooden’s final game. As we rode across the Sierra Nevada mountain range on Interstate 80, the broadcast would fade in and out. With all the noise in the back of the bus making it hard to hear, another freshman and I sat up near the front, trying to take in what was going on.

It allowed me the opportunity, while the game was at commercial or had faded out, to talk with the head coach, Rod Spence, about Wooden, coaching and life lessons. He got to know me, know who I was. Same for me.

I learned the foundation of his coaching tenets, where they came from, why he had them. Lessons that have been with me ever since. Lessons that helped guide me not only in sports, but in life.

A chance encounter, similar to chance encounters that happen every day of every college sports season everywhere.

By the way, we finally lost the broadcast completely. I didn’t get to hear the end. I had to read about the Bruins’ win the next day in the newspaper.

Yes, times have changed. Certain things are better, others worse. The best of things, like lessons learned through athletics, we can’t afford to lose.

•••

WSU: Theo Lawson took the lead in covering the NCAA’s decision, talking with Pat Chun and other area athletic directors about how they are dealing with its ramifications. … John Blanchette took some time to delve into its significance as well. … Theo also has the news the Pac-12 announced yesterday any organized team activities, no matter the sport, are off the table until at least May 31. … Around the Pac-12, the NCAA decision was met with praise – and worry. … There is still more to pass along concerning former Washington coach Jim Lambright. … In basketball, the Huskies expect to have guard Quade Green back next season. … Colorado learned it won’t have Tyler Bey back. He and Arizona State guard Remy Martin are heading to the NBA draft. … While others are losing players, USC is stockpiling grad transfers. The Trojan roster has lost a key component, but added three new pieces. … What will happen to Arizona? The HBO shoe company documentary airs today for the first time and the Wildcats are at the center of it. … UCLA may lose a key player as well. The Bruins have lost their spring football game. … Oregon State has hired a new wrestling coach.

EWU: Larry Weir kept an appointment with Eastern football coach Aaron Best despite spring football being canceled. The interview is central to the latest Press Box pod.

Seahawks: The longer the Jadeveon Clowney saga continues, the more chance it has to impact the Hawks’ draft. … The current Seattle administration deserves the benefit of the doubt.

•••       

• My wife laughed at me last night. You see, I had errands to run yesterday. Bills to mail, that sort of thing. I also had a check to deposit in the ATM. I took disinfectant wipes with me. Before I touched anything on the ATM, I wiped it thoroughly. Then I hit the buttons and deposited the check. She thought that was funny. Me? I thought it was just being smart. Of course, when I got home, I took a shower in rubbing alcohol. That, looking back on it, might have been overkill. Until later … By the way, I was just kidding about the shower. The wipes, though, were real.

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