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Extra year of eligibility for basketball seniors gaining support

Joe Avento • Updated Mar 14, 2020 at 5:56 PM

East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes is a big supporter of the idea of allowing seniors who were denied the chance to play in the NCAA Tournament a chance to come back for an extra year.

Forbes began to call for that even before the tournament was canceled, 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 not getting a chance to experience the moment for which they had worked their entire basketball careers.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, for one, is on the record 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, a five-time NCAA Tournament champion, puts his support behind 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 percent 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 had been canceled. It didn’t address winter sports such as basketball.

Sunday should have been a time for celebration and optimism as the brackets for the NCAA Tournament were released. Instead, college basketball fans, not to mention players and coaches, were left wondering what could have been.

Forbes’ team went 30-4 and was one of 12 teams to win conference tournaments to already qualify for an NCAA Tournament that will never be.

The Bucs had five seniors play key roles. Three of them — Isaiah Tisdale, Trey Boyd 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 was a reserve that 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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