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Coronavirus impacting Tech athletes and coaches

Cancelling spring sports left 19 senior Tech athletes facing eligibility questions and coaches pondering effects on recruiting.

NCAA officials extended eligibility, but those athletes now must decide whether to continue their education another year or graduate.

“Right now, I’m not completely sure what I would do. I would love to stay and finish my senior year just to be able to complete all the senior activities,” softball utility player Regan Sparks said. “It would give me the opportunity to play the game I love for a little bit longer.”

Tiera Norman, a track and field athlete, said she plans to return and compete as a graduate student. Golf team member Dabney Dixon, however, isn’t so sure.

“(I’ve) got a lot to figure out as to whether I take the extra year or not,” he said.

The Ohio Valley Conference Board of Presidents suspended all athletic-related activities on March 12 due to the pandemic. Tech officials have yet to decide a course of action.

“Tennessee Tech continues to monitor the situation and determine the best approach and decisions related to years of eligibility and financial aid for student athletes,” Mark Wilson, director of athletes said.

The decision affected six of Tech’s sports teams: baseball, softball, men’s and women’s golf, tennis, indoor track and field.

Division I student-athletes are allowed four seasons to compete in five years, according to NCAA rules.

The adjustment to DI rules allows student athletes affected by COVID-19 to compete for an extra season. It also adjusts financial aid rules, allowing teams to carry more members on scholarship — a consideration for dealing with incoming recruits and eligible athletes who decide to stay.

Schools facing financial burdens for carrying extra scholarships also have access to the NCAA’s Student Assistance Fund for funding, according to the adjustment.

Tech baseball coach Stephen Smith said athletic programs may face the issue of having too many players on the roster – a situation that offers both good and bad points.

“It is likely that the number of players entering the transfer portal will increase significantly,” Smith said. “For Tennessee Tech, that may provide an opportunity to improve the roster more quickly with older, more experienced players.”

Still there are a lot of “unknowns” about how the pandemic and eligibility extension may affect next season.

“This is unchartered territory for a lot of us, so there is no real good way to anticipate how this is going to all play out or for how long,” Thomas Corhern, sports information coordinator, said.

The shortened 2020 spring season left Tech teams with a mixture of success. Most teams never got a chance to play a conference game.

Before their seasons were cancelled, the team and records stood at:

  • Baseball: 3-11 overall, 0-3 conference.
  • Softball: 10-9 overall, 0-0 conference
  • Tennis: 5-4 overall, 0-0 conference
  • Women’s in-door track: 8th place at the OVC Indoor Championship in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Women’s golf: best finish in early season, 38th place at the Kiawah Island Classic in South Carolina.
  • Men’s golf: best finish in early season, 5th place finish at a Bash at the Beach Tournament in North Carolina.

Reporters Austin Dunston and Patrick Barnfield contributed to this report.