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NCAA grants winter sports athletes extra year of eligibility

NCAA grants winter sports athletes extra year of eligibility

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MSU Men's Hoops Scrimmage (copy)

Montana State’s Xavier Bishop works against Finn Fleute during an open scrimmage at Worthington Arena on Oct. 18, 2019.

BOZEMAN — Winter sport athletes will gain an extra year of eligibility and an extra year to complete their eligibility, the NCAA announced Wednesday.

This is the same flexibility that was given to spring and fall sport athletes since the coronavirus pandemic upended teams’ seasons.

The announcement Wednesday means the 2020-21 season won’t count against eligibility. This has an effect on teams like Montana State men’s basketball, which brought in senior transfers Xavier Bishop and Abdul Mohamed with the intent they’d only have one year of eligibility to play for the Bobcats.

Now, both will be allowed to compete in the 20-21 season as well as another season after that. MSU began preseason practice Wednesday with six weeks until games are allowed to begin Nov. 25.

Though the Big Sky Conference postponed fall sports to the spring, other conferences around the country have tried playing through the pandemic. Several college football games in recent weeks have been called off because of the virus. Even though the winter season hasn’t begun, fall sports have shown the season likely won’t be close to normal and thus it won’t count against athletes’ eligibility.

The MSU men return six scholarship players who played last season. In addition to Bishop and Mohamed, Devin Kirby and Amin Adamu are seniors. None will exhaust their eligibility this winter, based on the rule change.

Junior Jubrile Belo, who was named Big Sky Conference newcomer of the year, could end up playing four years for MSU, for example.

The Bobcats also have three verbal commitments in this year’s recruiting class. Only 13 scholarship players are allowed on Division I teams each year, but the adjustment to eligibility could mean potential changes coming to scholarship restrictions in future years.

Montana State has yet to announce its schedule for the upcoming season. Though the Big Sky shortened the conference season to 16 games in the spring to save money, the league may return to a 20-game conference season to allow more games to be played even if some are canceled due to COVID-19.

Since the NCAA reduced the maximum number of regular season games allowed from 31 to 27 — and some teams may not schedule as many as 27 — Big Sky teams may only need to schedule a few nonconference contests. Given the uncertainty of the season, scheduling has created challenges for programs across the country.

The NCAA has recommended players and coaches are tested for COVID-19 three times per week during the season.

Montana State men’s basketball 2020-21 roster chart

Montana State men's basketball scholarship chart

Position Class of 2021 Freshmen Sophomores Juniors Seniors
Guards Alex Germer^ Kellen Tynes Caleb Bellach Mike Hood Xavier Bishop
Patrick McMahon^ Tyler Patterson Nick Gazelas Amin Adamu
Carter Ash* Jesse Owens* Abdul Mohamed
Gavin Gundlach*
Forwards Sam Lecholat^ Borja Fernandez Bilal Shabazz
Centers Finn Fleute Jubrile Belo Devin Kirby
* denotes walk-on
^ denotes verbal commit

Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.

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