FARGO — The NCAA Division I Council on Wednesday took the expected step of granting winter sport athletes another year of eligibility. For the North Dakota State men’s and women’s basketball programs, both of whom are in different stages of developing their teams, it’s most likely a no-big-deal event.
In fact, a case can be made that if there ever was a season for an extra-year eligibility issue, this would be it. The Bison women have just two seniors and have overhauled their roster in just over one season under head coach Jory Collins.
“For our team and where we’re at,” Collins said, “it has not affected us like it’s affected other teams just because of where we’re at in trying to build.”
The Bison men also have just two seniors in inside players Rocky Kreuser and Tyler Witz. Kreuser, who played as a true freshman, could have redshirted this season if it appeared the prospect of a full season wasn’t looking promising because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NCAA lowered the number of games to qualify for the NCAA tournament to 13, down from 25. Witz, a junior college transfer who played in 32 games for the Bison last year, also has not redshirted and could have sat out this season.
With this year awash, there is no need to make that decision.
“We have had way more forward conversations than we’ve ever had early this fall with our guys,” said NDSU head men’s coach Dave Richman. “Here are the rules, here’s the (graduation) dates, where are you at, here’s where you’re at.”
Both the Bison men and women will eventually have to tackle what year a player is at with their roster. Richman has four juniors and it remains to be seen if they’ll be juniors in 2020-21 or if any, or all, will be elevated to seniors.
The NCAA allows men’s teams 13 scholarships, although that could be increased for one year with this year not counting. Eventually, however, it will stick at 13.
“That’s the tricky part,” Richman said. “I think for us, we’ll have that conversation, work with everybody and do what’s best for the program and each individual.”
Nationwide, if enough players stay another year, it could impact current high school prospects looking for a Division I scholarship. Collins thinks it could affect the 2022 recruiting class the most.
It’s where his philosophy of generally using only 12 of the NCAA allowable 15 scholarships for women could help. Collins said roster flexibility is the main reason for not consistently using all 15.
The Bison have two seniors in Michelle Gaislerova and Emily Dietz and two junior college transfers in Britney Epperson and Reneya Hopkins. There are other factors that go into a free year of eligibility, like players graduating and deciding to move on with life.
“It’s going to be up to them and up to us to decide if they want to be juniors next year and how that goes,” Collins said.
He said Dietz and Gaislerova as seniors are curious to see how the season goes, and if it indeed is a full season. Although it hasn’t been officially released by the conference office, the Summit League will begin conference play in early January with a slate of 16 games.
One change: instead of a home-and-home, two games vs. an opponent are expected to be played at one site on Thursdays and Saturdays.