PROVO — In a touching entry written for “The Athletes’ Journal” on BYU’s website, star softball player Rylee Jensen-McFarland details how her promising senior season was taken away after just 23 games due to the spread of COVID-19.
“I feel like every emotion went through my body,” she wrote about the day, March 12, when the NCAA canceled winter and spring sports because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I lost it — I just started crying. I couldn’t control it.”
Monday, the NCAA’s Division I Council voted to allow all student-athletes who compete in spring sports an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility. But the governing body for college sports said student-athletes in winter sports would not get relief because they had completed the majority, if not all, of their seasons.
So it was bad news for members of BYU’s men’s basketball team such as TJ Haws, Jake Toolson and Yoeli Childs, but good news for Jensen and her fellow seniors on the BYU softball team.
“I had put my heart and soul into this season and all of a sudden it was just gone,” Jensen wrote. “I was having such a good season. I set my goal to be an All-American and I was on track for that. And in a moment it was all just taken away from me.”
But now it is back, providing Jensen-McFarland, who is married to BYU football player Darius McFarland, wants to come back.
“It is definitely a possibility because I have one to two semesters left at school, so it would work great for me, school-wise,” she told Brandon Gurney of the Deseret News last week. “And then part of me just can’t take having to end it like it did this year. I have unfinished work. And then, obviously, Darius is just a redshirt sophomore, so I am going to be around here, anyway.”
The NCAA will also allow schools to expand their scholarship limits to account for incoming recruits who have already signed to compete. It will let individual schools decide whether to grant seniors in spring sports equal or less financial aid than they were receiving this year.
That flexibility applies only to student-athletes, like Jensen-McFarland, who would have been out of eligibility after the 2019-20 school year.
Duff Tittle, BYU Associate Athletic Director for Communication, issued a statement on the ruling Monday night.
“We are pleased for those student-athletes who will have an opportunity to return next year and play another spring season,” Tittle said, declining to answer a question about whether BYU will provide the same amount of financial aid as it did this spring.
Such an act could carry a significant price tag. According to a USA Today analysis, giving an additional season of eligibility to seniors could cost schools with large athletic programs anywhere from $500,000 to $900,000.
In a video address to BYU fans on March 17, athletic director Tom Holmoe said there have been a lot of discussion about “making things right” for spring sports athletes and has told several coaches that taking care of those athletes was a priority for his department.
“In the coming weeks we will learn more about these possibilities and share them with you as we can,” Holmoe said.
Last week, BYU catcher Abe Valdez, one of three seniors on the coach Mike Littlewood’s roster, told the Deseret News that he is graduating this spring and would probably only return if his financial aid package was similar to what he is receiving now.
“As of right now I am preparing myself to come back for another year … if everything remains the same (financially),” he said.
The NCAA increased the roster limit in baseball (35 players), the only spring sport with such a limit.
BYU women’s golf coach Carrie Roberts has only one senior on her roster, Anna Kennedy of Parker, Colorado. Roberts said athletes like Kennedy “will have a tough decision to make” because many are getting their degrees and are eager to move on, but would also like to finish what they started.
The NCAA “has said they can come back, but we don’t know what that looks like, and we don’t know what will be required of them,” Roberts said. “Will they have to take more school? Which will be fine, right? But there are a lot of unknowns still that kind of go into deciding what to do.”
For both the athletes, and the schools.