With still over two months (hopefully) left to play this season, it seems a bit odd to look towards the future and think about next season. But with the calendar flipping to 2021, a couple of big decisions will need to be made in the coming months regarding the collegiate careers of senior guards PJ Pipes and Josh Jefferson.
The NCAA ruled in October that winter sport athletes will be granted another season of eligibility due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic effectively rendering the 2020/2021 season as a “free” year. All players on the current roster will now have 6 years to play 5 seasons instead of the normal 5 years to play 4 seasons. That means Pipes and Jefferson could potentially return to the program as 5th year seniors next season, they could transfer to play one more season elsewhere, or they could graduate and look to begin a potential professional basketball career.
The NCAA’s ruling allows schools to exceed the 13-player scholarship limit next season for current seniors meaning the Phoenix could potentially have 15-scholarship players, however it is unknown if the UWGB athletic department would be willing to take on the additional financial cost of those scholarships. The school would have to potentially pay additional scholarship costs for several programs as the NCAA has granted additional eligibility to all spring and fall athletes as well. Before the NCAA announcement on fall and winter sports eligibility, UW-Madison announced this past April that it would not honor the scholarships of returning seniors of spring sports due to financial concerns.
It’s a delicate issue that is on the players and coaching staff’s mind even though the main focus continues to be on this season.
“When it was first announced I kind of gave it a quick thought about stuff that I could do with my major,” Pipes said on the Green Bay Phoenix Coaches Show back on November 24th. “Kind of what basketball would look like for me after this year, if I wanted to pursue maybe majoring in a different subject or getting another minor or possibly getting a masters.”
“I kind of gave all that a thought but right now I just want to go day by day because with COVID you really don’t know what the next day or the next week might behold. So I’ve been kind of trying to stay focused and trying to go day by day and then really whatever happens just happens.”
Pipes (15.2) and Jefferson (13.9) are the team’s second and third leading scorers and each rank in the top 15 of the Horizon League in points per game.
The Phoenix currently have all 13 scholarships allocated for next season with the three-man 2021 recruiting class of Cade Mayer, Brayden Dailey, and Kamari McGee set to join the program, though there may be roster departures in the offseason due to transfers, especially if the NCAA approves removing the requirement that athletes who transfer must sit out for one season.
According to multiple media reports, unless there is further action from the NCAA teams will likely be required to return to the 13-scholarship limit after next season even though every player on the roster has received an extra season of eligibility.
It all adds up to potential scholarship allocation headaches and maybe some future tough roster decisions.
“Had I been here for a few more years I would probably have a better feel as to what a guy like PJ wants to do, or Josh,” head coach Will Ryan said back in November. “We haven’t crossed that bridge yet. We still have twenty-whatever games, hopefully more. They may love it, they may not like the system, this that or whatever.”
“I think they’re going to enjoy the season. I guess we’ll see what happens when it’s the end of the year, who knows when that’s going to be. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Photo via Green Bay Phoenix Athletics