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What are the big questions to be answered as college lacrosse season is cancelled?

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The 2020 season is over. What are the big questions as we deal with the fallout of something this unprecedented?

2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

The 2020 men’s and women’s college lacrosse seasons are, for all intents and purposes, over. Due to the emerging threat of COVID-19 and the impact it has on public health and safety, the NCAA canceled spring sports championships, following virtually every conference either outright canceling or suspending their seasons.

This leaves us with many burning questions about what this all means for next year and beyond. This questions are all obviously unanswered and will hopefully be answered over the next few months; and due to the unprecedented nature of what’s happened, there’s no easy solution for them. But we’re gonna take our best shot at coming up with what these questions are and the impact they could have.

  • Will seniors be granted 5th years of eligibility?

This is the big one. We did not get through even 50% of this year’s season; the duration of the season lasting only roughly 5 weeks. Many seniors just had their last year of eligibility wiped out. Will the NCAA grant a 5th year of eligibility for these players?

Obviously not all of these players will be able to afford a 5th year; some have jobs lined up in a few months and may pass and choose to end their careers. But there will undoubtedly be some who want to finish off their college careers on the right note and not with something crazy like this causing the plug to be pulled extraordinarily early.

The only precedent for this in lacrosse is the NCAA granting a 5th year of eligibility after an emergency waiver for all Duke players following the cancellation of their 2006 season. It would be difficult and create even more questions in the long term, but every senior this year should get the opportunity to finish off their career as they would have otherwise and be granted a waiver for the 5th year. It is the fair and just thing to do for all students and athletes and hopefully the NCAA takes the right course of action.

  • Will the Ivy League allow possible 5th year seniors to stay in-conference?

As you may know, the Ivy League does not grant redshirts nor allow graduate students to participate in athletics. If a player suffers an injury at some point in his career, normally they’d seek a medical redshirt and play their 5th year, but in the Ivy this is not possible. Athletics, since 1954, have only been for undergrads.

This leads us to 79 seniors currently in the Ivy League. What happens if the NCAA grants 5th years to all those players, who will have graduated? Will the Ivy League waive their policy and allow, for the first time ever, non-undergrads to participate in athletics? If they don’t, what happens to these players? We’re talking about again, 79 players, many at the absolute top of the sport, who would be free to transfer wherever they wish. Some would again, choose to move on to jobs they have lined up and not take that option. But many likely would and that would be an unprecedented number of players hitting the transfer portal. Would the NCAA then put a cap on how many players teams from outside the Ivy could take? Many schools with masters programs and high ranking institutions would be very appealing to players who got degrees from Ivy institutions. Would you allow many to flock to one school?

The Ivy, following their decision to cancel spring sports yesterday, said it would request a waiver and extra year, but did not say whether or not it would permit them to remain in the Ivy.

  • Will extra years of eligibility be granted for all players?

We discussed this question for this year’s seniors, but what about all of the other players who are having a year of their college career cut short? It would be unfair for them to not get a full four years of their college career, especially when something this unprecedented has been the cause of it. All players should get an extra year and get the chance to play four full seasons in college, not just this year’s seniors. Hopefully that happens, but it doesn’t seem as likely and it also is much more difficult to handle.

What happens next year and then the year after when 10-15 seniors (so this year’s juniors and so on) get granted a redshirt and want to play their 5th year? Schools usually take about a dozen incoming freshmen every year - service academies more around 20 - and that could lead to teams roster sizes ballooning up 70 or so. That’s too many players for one team to carry.

Would teams have to let players go and say they don’t have the room to grant them a 5th year? Will they take less incoming freshmen? And then what does that do for kids’ choices coming out of high schools? This could be a 4-5 year long process and ripple effect. Not being able to afford and/or not wanting to continue will whittle some players out, but not all.

  • What happens with scheduling?

There’s a lot of elements to this one and a lot of different parts to dissect.

First, are we basically just copy pasting this year’s schedule onto next? Will teams play the same schedule they played this year next year, since we did have games and agreements for games this year, including non-conference, not get fulfilled. Do teams want to maintain those and since some teams only played four games or so this year decide to just play this year back? Or do they go forward with making whole new schedules?

What about home/road rotations for conference play? Only a few conferences got into conference play and those who did only got through one game. Will this year’s rotations for conference play remain in place for 2021 or will they switch it to what the rotation would have been in 2021 if this year had been finished? But then in that case teams will be losing out on home games that they would have had.

The home/road splits goes for non-con games too, some non-con rivalries that are yearly did not get played. What will happen with those and do teams decide to imprint this year over to next?

All of these are big, unique questions that the NCAA is going to have to grapple with and considering how pressing and pertinent some of this is for student athletes, will have to get to pretty soon. You hope it all works itself out for the student athletes, but that’s always a question mark with the NCAA in normal and obvious situations, and this is not a normal and obvious situation.