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The National Collegiate Athletic Association has taken a lot of flak in recent years.

Most of the criticism stems from the changing tide of public opinion regarding the state of amateurism in the financial juggernauts of Division I football and basketball.

But as concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic reached a tipping point in mid-March, the NCAA made the decision to shut down one of its highest revenue generators in its NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament. It wouldn’t take long before the NCAA canceled the entire spring sports season.

March Madness became March Sadness.

The NCAA started April with some positive PR for a change when it granted an extra year of eligibility for all spring sports athletes who had their seasons canceled.

The NCAA made the right decision, although there were a few holes in its plan.

The NCAA’s ruling allowed each college to make its own decision on whether those athletes would return with an extra year of eligibility. Those institutions can even decide if scholarships are full or partial for those individuals.

This gives smaller colleges and universities wiggle room to avoid putting a financial strain on its athletic department that is essentially taking on an extra class of student-athletes for each of the next four spring campaigns.

The problem is that mid-majors aren’t the only ones deciding to pass on giving their student-athletes that one-time exception.

Ivy League presidents blocked the rule for its schools with a vote on April 2. The University of Wisconsin followed their lead the following week, becoming the first major college athletics program to publicly make that decision.

We still have some time before we find out if these institutions are the exceptions, but we’re also a long way away from having 40,000 fans enter football stadiums across the country every Saturday.

It’s hard to imagine the biggest cash cow in college athletics to resume until there is a vaccine. The most profitable part of college sports is the Power Five football conferences and their TV deals. We should expect more talks about playing in front of empty stadiums and arenas in the coming months.

But most programs — including the college football powerhouses — keep their budgets dangerously close to the red, even if that’s because they earmark potential profits for facilities and salaries for coaches and administrative staff.

These programs will tighten their belts if they lose ticket revenue this fall. Other institutions are likely to follow the lead of the Ivy League and Wisconsin.

This shouldn’t happen, at least not at the types of programs that have made head coaches the highest paid public employees in 40 out of 50 states, according to a list compiled by ESPN. Paul Chryst, Wisconsin head football coach, earns $4.2 million per year compared to Gov. Tony Evers’ $147K.

Universities and colleges shouldn’t deny these young men and women this lifeline that was thrown out in such dire circumstances without first looking for other ways to combat lost revenue.

If not, the NCAA and its member institutions deserve the flak they get.

Sports Writer Mac Moore can be reached at 389-6643 or mac.moore@mycouriertribune.com.

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