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Vols' Barnes has questions about extra year of eligibility

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 22, 2020 at 5:00 PM

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes has questions.

Because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, his seniors were denied the chance to play their way into the NCAA Tournament field when the Southeastern Conference tournament was canceled. Then the NCAA Tournament itself was canceled.

The notion of an extra year of eligibility emerged. East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes came out in favor of the idea after his Bucs won the Southern Conference tournament. Others offering public support included Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Jay Bilas, a former Duke player and current ESPN analyst.

During a news conference last week, Barnes said he wonders how an extra year of eligibility would work in college basketball, especially with the NCAA opting not to release a bracket for a hypothetical tournament.

“I have a lot of respect for Steve Forbes and East Tennessee State, in the fact that they had won their way into the NCAA Tournament,” Barnes said. “But if you go back and you read (NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball) Danny Gavitt’s comments about the tournament, they hadn’t even bracketed it.

“So who are we talking about here? Some teams, their seasons are already over. How can you go back and decide by rule who is the real representative from the SEC, from the ACC? By that bylaw, it’s the tournament champion. They say we’re not going to deal in hypotheticals, we’re not going to put a bracket out — so the line is where do you cut this off?”

Barnes’ Vols went 17-14 and winning the SEC tournament in all likelihood was their only chance to make the NCAA field. Would only seniors from tournament-eligible teams be able to come back for an extra year? What about players whose seasons were already over?

“Does a guy like Jordan Bowden (come back)? Before we played that (SEC tournament) game, I don’t think we were in the NCAA Tournament,” Barnes said. “There are a lot of seniors like that. If you’re going to say only the teams that (were) qualified at that time, that might be the ones you might say. But I can’t imagine any league in the country agreeing to something like that.

“We’re talking hypotheticals and I will go back to what Danny said. We’re not dealing in hypotheticals.”

The day after canceling the remainder of the championships for winter sports, the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for athletes competing in spring sports. After all, most were less than halfway into their seasons, and some had yet to begin.

“Everybody in college basketball that hadn’t played their last game, who knows how it would’ve unfolded,” Barnes said. “Who knows who would’ve come through a tournament? There are so many things unknown that we could never figure it out. Do you give it to every team? Do you give it to the ones that already lost? How do you do that?

“Right now, I don’t think that’s on anybody’s agenda.

“Whatever comes out of that, even though we’re a part of the NCAA, I think our real focus should be what’s happening in the country right now,” he added.