Wisconsin tells spring sports seniors they can't return for 2021 season despite NCAA ruling

Wisconsin is not going to be providing its spring sport seniors with another opportunity to play their final college seasons.

The school confirmed in a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal that it had "made the decision to not pursue waivers that would extend the eligibility of our senior student-athletes” and that "student-athletes in their fourth year of eligibility have concluded their careers with us."

The NCAA ruled at the end of March that all spring sports athletes would get an extra year of eligibility. That included seniors who would have the option of returning for a final season if they wanted. Wisconsin is instead making that decision for them.

The statement came after Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said on his monthly radio show that the school was encouraging seniors set to graduate to “move on with your life.” Per Alvarez, Wisconsin’s decision would affect 35 athletes across its spring sports.

Winter sports athletes were not given eligibility relief by the NCAA despite postseason tournaments and events getting canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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What can athletes do?

Wisconsin is the first major school to effectively tell its seniors that there is no room at the inn for them next season. And while it’s undoubtedly true that athletic departments across the country are facing the prospect of financial crunches because of the pandemic, telling seniors that they have no choice to come back for a final season looks heartless. And it sure seems to fly in the face of all the NCAA’s propaganda about how the well-being of athletes as students and humans comes first.

It reasons that Wisconsin won’t be the only school that makes this decision either. That will put the onus on the NCAA to figure out an equitable solution for spring sports competitors whose schools decide that they are no longer wanted.

Bucky Badger is seen during the first half of an NCAA college football game between Wisconsin and the Central Michigan Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin's spring sports seniors can't come back in 2021. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Perhaps one of the National College Players Association’s proposals revealed Thursday is the best idea in this bad situation. The NCPA is advocating for all spring sports seniors to be granted the ability to immediately transfer to a different school for the 2020-21 season if their current school doesn’t provide them the same scholarship opportunity they had in 2019-20.

That would help anyone who isn’t covered by current graduate transfer laws. Graduate transfers are allowed to be immediately eligible at their new school if they have eligibility remaining and transfer to a school that provides a graduate program not offered at their current school. A widespread waiver would let a player transfer to any school of his or her choice that had space available. It’s not ideal. But it’s certainly better than nothing. And nothing is what Wisconsin is giving its spring sports seniors.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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