Citing a time of "unprecedented uncertainty in college athletics," Wisconsin officials announced Thursday that the Badgers would not seek waivers for seniors in spring sports whose final seasons were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the NCAA Division I Council approved an extension of eligibility for athletes in spring sports and relaxed scholarship limits to allow seniors in spring sports to return for the 2020-21 academic year.
The NCAA also left it up to each institution to decide whether to grant seniors in spring sports less or equal financial aid next year, compared to what they received this year. The NCAA said in a statement that the financial aid flexibility applied only to student-athletes who would have exhausted their eligibility in 2019-20.
"UW Athletics places tremendous emphasis on its student-athletes earning an undergraduate degree and having a great competitive experience," Wisconsin officials said in the statement. "In the case of the UW spring student-athletes to which the NCAA's waiver would apply, a substantial percentage of the student-athletes are scheduled to earn their degrees before next spring. In spite of today's uncertainties, we will do everything possible to support our student-athletes as they work toward those degrees.
"The athletic department has made the decision to not pursue waivers that would extend the eligibility of our senior student-athletes. Student-athletes in their fourth year of eligibility have concluded their careers with us. This group of student-athletes has our full support up to, including and beyond graduation. They are Badgers for life and we are greatly appreciative of the way they have represented our department and the university."
The waivers could be applied for student-athletes competing in spring sports: baseball, softball, tennis, golf, outdoor track and field, lacrosse, rowing, men's volleyball, beach volleyball and women's water polo. The NCAA's waiver decision did not include winter sports such as basketball, hockey, swimming and diving, and gymnastics.
In his monthly radio show on Wednesday, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez told WIBA-AM that the NCAA's decision to grant an extra year of eligibility to athletes in spring sports was "an overreaction."
"That creates a lot of problems," Alvarez told WIBA-AM. "It's more complicated than that as far as numbers. You've got another group coming in, etc. ... You've got a group of freshmen coming in. Do you want this group coming back? How does that [affect] roster size? There's a financial burden that goes along with that."
Other Division I schools are weighing similar difficult decisions. Iowa athletic director Gary Barta said Thursday that the Hawkeyes have about 25 to 35 spring sports seniors who would like to return, resulting in a scholarship cost of about $500,000. He said the Iowa athletics department was still working through the issue.
Alvarez said Wisconsin's decision would affect about 35 seniors in spring sports, and many of them already had internships or jobs lined up.
"There's no guarantee that if you were on aid that you would be put back on aid," Alvarez said. "We don't know what the future is. We don't know what's going to happen this fall."
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said Friday that 31 of 70 spring sports seniors are choosing to return in 2021. This equates to 14.28 scholarships, about $630,000 in scholarship costs and about $900,000 in total expenses.
"We felt it was important to provide those kids that opportunity," Smith said.
Wisconsin has projected a revenue shortfall of more than $4 million because of the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments and championship events in other spring sports.
Last month, the NCAA board of governors voted unanimously to distribute $225 million -- less than half of what it previously budgeted -- to Division I schools in June, following the cancellation of its basketball tournaments and other winter and spring championships because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The NCAA had planned to distribute about $600 million, with the first distribution scheduled for this month.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg contributed to this report.