Emerman: Offering support to graduating spring athletes is the right move

first_img Published on April 23, 2020 at 8:39 pm Facebook Twitter Google+ As long as they’re in good academic standing, any graduating Syracuse athlete whose spring season was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic will have a chance to return with an extra year of eligibility. The NCAA made eligibility “appropriate” for all graduating spring athletes on March 30, but pushed the responsibility of actually offering it to individual schools. It’s the college sports equivalent of federalism, of the president allowing each state to decide when to initiate stay-at-home orders and when to reopen nonessential businesses.Syracuse didn’t have to do this. It absolutely would’ve been easier to take the Wisconsin route and say ‘thanks for your service, good luck in the real world’ to graduating seniors. It certainly would’ve saved SU a penny.“People can quarrel with the decision you make, there’s very few pure right or pure wrong decisions in a time like this, but I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Syracuse University Director of Athletics John Wildhack told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning.And it is. Offering to “support any senior from spring sports whose season was cut short and who wish to return” is a generous, thoughtful decision. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s one that puts Syracuse’s athletes first. AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“For us, the first thing that we’ve done is to really focus on our student-athletes,” Wildhack said. “Because that’s our mission statement, that’s what we’re here for: to provide them the best experience both academically and athletically as we can. That’s been our No. 1 objective.” The choice proves that Wildhack was genuine when he said, after the NCAA canceled the remainder of spring sports, that he empathized with athletes and coaches whose seasons ended abruptly.Of course he felt for those athletes. How could he not? Their seasons, many of which were more promising than ever, ended in a gutting, heartless way. A pandemic threatened to terminate their college careers and some of the highlights of their lives.All-American attack Emily Hawryschuk’s returning for a fifth year. Ace Alexa Romero’s coming back, too. So are decorated lacrosse goalies Drake Porter and Asa Goldstock. Men’s lacrosse defender Nick Mellen won’t, but that’s OK. At least he had the option.Not all schools have the financial luxury to offer relief to so many athletes. Syracuse, which generated a school record $99.8 million in revenue in 2018-19, does. More schools will join Cincinnati in cutting sports and more schools like Wisconsin — which brought in $152 million in revenue in 2017-18 — will inevitably decline to offer graduating seniors relief.But at SU, 28 graduating spring athletes are returning, at least one from each spring sport, Wildhack said. He did not confirm whether they’ll be back on the same scholarship they previously had, but said “we’re trying to make things comparable for everybody to the best of our ability.”  Many challenging financial decisions still loom. Colleges and conferences across the country are reportedly considering just about everything, from cutting entire programs to shortening seasons of non-revenue Olympic sports. Because of the lost NCAA Tournament, the NCAA’s 2020 revenue distribution will be $225 million, less than half the expected $600 million. That’s a big hit to everyone, even powerhouses like Syracuse. Wildhack said the athletic department’s had no discussions about eliminating sports. But, he also said several times in his 40-minute press conference that so much is unknown. A lot can change in a world of facemasks and Zoom happy hours. Hopefully Syracuse can alleviate the financial stress without cutting programs, instead working at the margins. On Monday, the university announced several high-earning employees, including Wildhack, Jim Boeheim, Dino Babers and John Desko, will take 10% pay cuts in the 2021 fiscal year to support students, faculty and staff particularly affected by COVID-19. That may not even make a dent in Syracuse’s lost revenue, but it’s a start. “You’ve got to build a variety of budget contingencies,” Wildhack said. Perhaps some luxurious amenities for athletes will have to go. Maybe teams will have to ride the bus to away games instead of chartered flights. Some athletics administrative workers may get furloughed or laid off, unfortunately. Cutting a sport entirely, though, would be devastating. It would be dream-deferring. No solution is perfect. But we’re living in a far from perfect time. Accommodating graduating spring athletes who want another crack at their season is a serious gesture for SU, a moral success in the first major test of handling COVID-19’s impact on college sports. Danny Emerman is the sports editor for The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at [email protected] or @DannyEmerman. Commentslast_img

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