Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the world of collegiate athletics has been thrown into limbo. With more students returning for their lost seasons — and new freshmen still arriving — there is a dire need for more funding.

The NCAA announced on March 30 that student-athletes who had their spring season canceled due to COVID-19 could choose to play an extra year. Director of SIUE Athletics Tim Hall said this has opened up many opportunities for student-athletes at SIUE.

“So, if you’re what we call a ‘COVID senior,’ where you’re going to exhaust your eligibility, you can still come back and compete in this season, because the NCAA said the athletic aid for that wouldn’t be part of the aid limit,” Hall said. 

However, with some seniors staying for another season, Hall said there will now be less money to hand out, since there will be five classes of student-athletes instead of the usual four. To sum it up, Hall said seniors from Spring 2020 are allowed to return so they can make up for their lost semester, but that means they will have one more class of students than usual.

“Each team has a limit of aid. Say you were a senior, and in your fourth year, your season was canceled, but we awarded them the scholarship for the following year because they missed it,” Hall said. “But, you’d still have freshmen coming in, so the aid amount would go over. So, anybody who is a senior, as long as they stay at the same institution, the school award would not count against aid totals.”

Head Coach of Men’s Soccer Cale Wassermann said this system seems beneficial, but it has its faults. Even though the teams will be allowed to use additional funds for these extra students, there will still be a need for money.

“There are some new NCAA guidelines allowing for the players who return for an extra year to potentially receive non-countable aid, but although the NCAA is allowing it, it still costs programs money, so it will be a case-by-case and school-by-school institutional decision,” Wassermann said. 

SIUE had two ideas to raise money for the returning student-athletes, and the incoming athletes as well: the Cougar Athletic Excellence Fund — which has been used before — and the new $28 for 28 Campaign. 

According to the SIUE Athletics website, The Cougar Athletic Excellence Fund is used for helping with the cost of scholarships and operations for all 16 Division I varsity sports. There were also specific perks for some donors, like those who donated upward of $100 during July or June would be considered Cougar Athletic Excellence Fund members. Alternatively, the $28 for 28 Campaign is reserved only for student-athletes that earned a grade point average of higher than 3.0 for 28 consecutive semesters.  

Although the fundraising has helped, SIUE Athletics has still been very low on funds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Associate Athletics Director for Student Services Jaci DeClue said this has led to moving around some money in the department.

“While we have faced many budget challenges due to [COVID-19] and had to make various budget cuts, providing our student-athletes with their agreed upon athletic scholarship was a top priority of our department,” DeClue said. “In order to provide scholarships to students who chose to return, we have to look at other areas we can cut expenditures in. For every $1 we use on scholarships that were not budgeted, we have to cut a dollar somewhere else or increase our external fundraising.”

The NCAA has allowed students to make up for lost time, but student-athletes could also choose to opt out due to the pandemic while still maintaining 2020-21 athletic scholarships. Those who opt out still have to adhere to NCAA rules, like rules against drug use, but they don’t have to attend practices and lifts with the team. One athlete who opted out is DeVonté Tincher, a senior on the track and field team from Glen Carbon, Illinois. Tincher said track became a source of stress instead of a source of relief, which influenced his decision to opt out. 

“I had injuries and illnesses come along. It was hard for me because I was someone who never got injured and was always fine,” Tincher said. “If I did have an injury then I would only have to take a week or two off. Having to take four to five months off was something challenging for me.”  

Tincher said the decision to opt out helped him reflect on his own life more, and gave him a new outlook.

“Opting out allowed a lot of time for me to self-reflect about who I am outside of sports,” Tincher said. “Seeing who I am outside of athletics has been one of the most positive things that I could have done. I enjoy waking up and going to class, but not [on campus] class, and then doing my homework and after choosing what I want to do throughout the day … learning new things like the piano and being able to apply for jobs when I graduate.”

For more information, visit the NCAA website.

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