ECU baseball game vs. Ole Miss

East Carolina senior Tyler Smith pitches against Ole Miss at Clark-LeClair Stadium on Feb. 29.

The NCAA decided Monday night that not only seniors deserve eligibility relief for this season being cut short, but spring sports athletes in all classes are eligible for an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19 bringing competition to a sudden halt in mid-March.

The NCAA Division I Council voted Monday to give college athletes who compete in spring sports, such as scholarship equivalency sports baseball and softball, a way to get back the season they lost, but did not guarantee financial aid for returning seniors. The council also announced an increase in roster size in baseball for next season, meaning returning seniors will not count toward the usual 35-player limit.

ECU had a total of 39 senior student-athletes on spring rosters — 37 traditional seniors and two graduate students — for this year. The Pirates’ spring teams are baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field.

“The council’s decision gives individual schools the flexibility to make decisions at a campus level,” said NCAA Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun, who is athletics director at Penn, in a release. “The Board of Governors encouraged conferences and schools to take action in the best interest of student-athletes and their communities, and now schools have the opportunity to do that.”

Winter sports, like basketball, were not included in the decision. Council members declined to extend eligibility for student-athletes in sports where all or much of their regular seasons were completed.

D1Baseball.com writer Kendall Rogers tweeted Monday night: “The key component of today’s ruling is that it will be up to the schools to decide how much money they want to give to each returning athlete. They can give anywhere from 0 percent to what they got (this) year from a scholarship percentage.”

For the Pirates, women’s track had the most seniors with 11. Softball and men’s track each were second with six.

ECU baseball coach Cliff Godwin said last week he is expecting senior pitchers Cam Colmore, Tyler Smith and Matt Bridges to all return for another season.

“Schools also will have the ability to use the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund to pay for scholarships for students who take advantage of the additional eligibility flexibility in 2020-21,” the NCAA wrote in its release.

On March 12 is when the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled, along with all other remaining winter and spring sports championships. East Carolina did not compete in the American Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament and was fielding a nationally ranked baseball team with a 13-4 record through 17 games.

The Division I Council is made up of college sports administrators representing all 32 D-I conferences, plus two members of the student-athlete advisory committee.

Katie Hoeg, an All-American lacrosse player from North Carolina, said she has a teaching and coaching job lined up after she graduates this spring, but now plans to return as a grad student.

“I’m choosing my passion,” she said. “I can’t imagine ending my lacrosse career the way this season is going. I was pretty hopeful this would be a possibility. I’m really excited this decision has been made.”

Information from The AP was used in this story.

Contact Ronnie Woodward at rwoodward@reflector.com, 252-329-9592 and follow @RonnieW11 on Twitter.