When the NCAA Division I Council granted a blanket waiver to give spring-sport athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it came with a catch.
The NCAA left the decision-making process to individual member schools, including how much scholarship aid — if any — to provide seniors who are hoping to return for a final season.
The NCAA’s ruling also allows rosters to be expanded.
At the University of Vermont, athletic director Jeff Schulman said the school will offer opportunities for athletes to return but can’t increase the scholarship allotment due to budget constraints.
“There are schools who have chosen to fully fund all of the returning student-athlete scholarships and we are just not in a financial position to do that,” Schulman said in an extended phone interview Tuesday afternoon.
“If a scholarship student-athlete does want to come back for another year, then he or she is going to have to do that in a way that doesn’t require the program to go over its already allocated scholarship limitations,” UVM’s AD said.
The athletic department’s operating budget of $20.5 million includes roughly $8 million for scholarships spread across 18 varsity sports. In the spring, the scholarship distribution for men’s and women’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s track and field is approximately $1.7 million combined (although track also covers the winter season and cross-country running in the fall).
The men’s lacrosse team has 11.45 scholarships to hand out while women’s lacrosse offers 11. Women’s track and field/XC has four; and on the men’s side, there’s an allotment for two.
A full scholarship for an out-of-state athlete costs the school about $60,000 (which includes tuition, room and board, books and fees). For UVM’s spring athletes, most are not on full rides.
With a new crop of recruited athletes coming in for next year, Schulman said the burden is heavy on coaches when deciding on how to use their scholarship resources and roster spots.
“The one thing we don’t want is to have a student-athlete come back for an extra year and then realize they wouldn’t have the same playing opportunities,” Schulman said. “That’s something that is really important to us.”
Picked to win the America East Conference in the coaches’ preseason poll, UVM men’s lacrosse was spearheaded by eight seniors on a team with 35 returnees. The Catamount women’s lacrosse team had seven seniors. The track program boasted 24 seniors and seven graduate students.
It’s unclear how many will attempt to come back to UVM next spring, but Schulman said he’s not aware of any athletes who have entered the transfer portal. He also wouldn’t provide any names of athletes considering the NCAA’s blanket waiver on eligibility.
“It’s such a personal decision that I don’t want to make that public,” said Schulman when asked who is mulling a possible return. “But several of our top players are at least considering it.”
Based on feedback so far, Schulman said he believes most seniors will move on and begin their post-college lives.
“The overwhelming majority of our (seniors) are set to graduate and they have plans and returning for an extra year of college really wasn’t in those plans initially,” Schulman said.
Announcement forthcoming on new men’s hockey coach?
UVM has narrowed the search for its next men’s hockey coach. Schulman told the Free Press on Tuesday that the “candidate pool” has been whittled to “three people over the course of the last week.”
“We are in the final stages and we hope to make an announcement soon,” Schulman said. “We’ve been really pleased with the quality of the pool and I think we are the only Division I men’s hockey opening right now. We are looking forward to making an announcement shortly.”
UVM is looking to replace Kevin Sneddon, who retired after leading the Catamounts to a Frozen Four and two other NCAA Tournament appearances in 17 seasons. But since the 2010-11 season, Sneddon’s UVM squad went 66-136-37 in Hockey East play.
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