NJCAA cancels spring seasons

After initially suspending spring sports until April 3 due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the NJCAA decided Monday to cancel “all upcoming basketball championships as well as spring competition, effective immediately.”

This includes all practices, and off-campus recruiting for all sports is halted until April 15 with a further evaluation to be assessed at that time. No current student-athletes will be charged a year of eligibility and the NJCAA said it will look into expanding the allowable number of Letters of Intent of the next two years. However, the added financial costs of extra scholarships will be up to each school to fund, piling on to a growing list of unanswered questions about what the next several years of college recruiting, at every level, could look like.

“Some of our sophomores who may not be looking at going on, they kind of got robbed of their last season. Some of them are excited about coming back,” said Three Rivers softball coach Jeff Null, whose team already had three wins against ranked opponents. “It is good and bad, but I just hate it for this group and we’ll never know what we could have accomplished.”

Added Three Rivers baseball coach Stacey Burkey, “It is certainly going to affect baseball as far as five years with recruiting classes and all of that … I think you’ll definitely see some older players and probably some more freshmen redshirt next year just because of the numbers situation.”

Burkey added the NJCAA intends to decide in the coming days whether or not coaches can sign current players for next year’s season before they leave campus.

“I don’t see why we couldn’t do that, but that was specifically stated on (a letter) that they would be addressing that in the next few days. I don’t know. It is quite a mess.”

With the season over, practices canceled and Three Rivers College in discussions about what to do academically, some of the student-athletes have either gone home or will do so soon.

The softball team had its one-on-one, end of the year meetings Monday, during which, Null talked with each person about their situation and gave them guidance going forward.

“We’ll try to meet with as many guys as we can, but some have already left. Some are in the process of doing that pretty quick,” Burkey said.

The unanswered questions and not knowing the future were the toughest for much of the team, Burkey and Null said. For the eight softball sophomores, some have decided to come back and some have offers to four-year schools, where they could have three years of eligibility. Burkey thinks half of his 13 sophomores might come back.

However, those four-year schools also have the option of bringing back their current seniors, per the NCAA, and need to decide how they want to handle their own recruiting and financial ramifications.

Null has already signed his entire 2020-21 class, so while that recruiting class is unlikely to be affected, his 2021-22 class may be smaller because those incoming freshmen could potentially have 20-some sophomores ahead of them on the roster.

“If we do it this year, everybody will be freshmen again, so the following year you’ll have two sophomore classes and the incoming freshmen,” Null said. “I don’t need necessarily quite as big of a 2021 class. So it is affecting recruiting a little bit. It just won’t be fair to bring in those kids who have 20 sophomores in front of them.”

Softball finished 11-2 and was ranked just outside of the top-20 in what has become the final poll of the season. It lost to 6-4 to Southwest Tennessee and 9-6 to fifth-ranked Tyler.

The Raiders also picked up wins against ninth-ranked Howard (Texas), 10th-ranked Indian Hills and 13th ranked Butler in the same weekend at the Tyler Showcase.

Baseball had just kicked off its Region XVI schedule, going 1-3 on a road trip to State Fair. The Raiders were 11-11 through the first month of the season and got to play all of four games on their home grass. Softball played two.

“It’s certainly disappointing. Really just a lot of unanswered questions still. I guess we had just one Region XVI series we got to play and had maybe 2/3 of our season left to go,” Burkey said. “It is a pretty solemn group right now. They don’t really know what to think.”

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