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Extra year of eligibility for basketball seniors gaining support

Joe Avento • Mar 14, 2020 at 5:15 PM

JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State men’s basketball coach Steve Forbes is a big supporter of the idea of allowing seniors denied the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament a chance to return for an extra year.

Forbes began to call for that even before the tournament was canceled Thursday because of the coronavirus outbreak, saying “I believe that every senior should have the right to come back” if it was, indeed, called off. Now he seems to have plenty of company as coaches and others around the country weigh in on the desperation being felt by players missing out on the experience they had worked toward their entire basketball careers.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, for one, is on the record as agreeing with Forbes.

“I think that would be entirely appropriate and it’s certainly within the ability of the NCAA to get that done,” Bilas said. “We talk all the time about athlete welfare. This is something the NCAA could certainly do with relative ease and I think should do for anyone that wants to come back next year and compete. What would be wrong with that, to have a person in school for another year? Who would be hurt by that?

“I think it would be a wonderful gesture and certainly one that would make everybody feel better after something that’s been an extraordinarily difficult time.”

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, whose teams have won five NCAA Tournament titles, supports the idea as well.

“There is tremendous empathy for the student-athletes, especially the seniors, first of all on the basketball teams because it’s at the end of our season,” Krzyzewski said. “March Madness. It’s one of the gifts that our country has. It makes everyone feel better. These are moments that these kids work hard for and live for.

“Although only about 20% of the NCAA men’s basketball teams have made it — most seasons were over already — it would be appropriate to just take a look at what they would do with seniors. The seniors being eligible for spring sports is something that should be done. I think when they do that they should put on the table for discussion what should be done with the kids who were not able to finish their senior years playing basketball.”

On Friday, the NCAA released a statement saying it has taken steps to restore a year of eligibility for participants in springs sports, whose championships were canceled. It didn’t address winter sports such as basketball.

Sunday — the day the men’s bracket for the NCAA Tournament was to be announced — should have been a time of celebration and optimism. Instead, college basketball fans, not to mention players and coaches, are left to wonder what could have been.

ETSU went 30-4 and was among 12 teams that had already won their conference tournaments and qualified for an NCAA Tournament that will never be.

The Bucs had five seniors play key roles. Three of them — Isaiah Tisdale, Tray Boyd III and Lucas N’Guessan — were in the starting lineup down the stretch. Jeromy Rodriguez had been a starter before getting hurt and was just working his way back into the rotation. Joe Hugley, as a reserve, provided some important production at key moments.

Tisdale was the Most Outstanding Player at the Southern Conference tournament and Boyd was the team’s leading scorer and an all-conference selection.

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