The Southeastern Conference is pressing the NCAA for clarification on granting winter and spring student-athletes an extra year of eligibility.


Missouri athletic director Jim Sterk is at the front of the line.


Sterk wrote in a letter to the Tigers’ fan base Wednesday morning that the 14 SEC schools are hoping for the NCAA’s decision on eligibility to be made swiftly "for the well-being of affected student-athletes."


"I would expect that a decision on this topic may be rendered by the middle of next week," Sterk wrote.


SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said Wednesday during a conference call that he’s open to extending eligibility for impacted athletes. The league compliance office has shared eight pages of analysis and guidelines to help inform NCAA decision-makers.


The NCAA announced last week it was exploring rule changes that would provide avenues for Division I student-athletes in spring sports to regain lost eligibility.


The organization has also been considering the possibility of enacting similar waivers for athletes in winter sports whose seasons were recently cut short due to cancellations stemming from the novel coronavirus.


Sankey said there’s no certain date or timeline for when determinations will be made.


"We have to understand the full set of implications, and I hope we’ll move through those rapidly because I think one of the tasks for our young people is knowing definitively what their eligibility status will be going forward," Sankey said.


Sankey said he thinks retaining eligibility is not a senior-only issue.


"Everybody in our athletic programs, particularly spring sports, had their season disrupted," Sankey said. "So my encouragement is we take a broad look at what type of opportunities we offer going forward."


Sankey put a focus on getting a prompt answer for spring sports student-athletes because a majority of their seasons were canceled. Winter sports athletes’ eligibility is an issue to be discussed as well, but several programs, including Missouri women’s basketball, completed its 2019-20 season before the rash of cancellations.


Sankey said he is open to discussing the current scholarship limitations to accommodate the potential eligibility extensions.


The SEC athletic directors have spent at least an hour every day over the past week, with the exception of Sunday, on a conference call discussing a variety of topics revolving around the stoppage.


Sankey said the SEC is contingency planning for disruption to its fall sports schedule but is optimistic that no delays for football and other fall sports will occur.


While spring football games and pro days across the league have been canceled, it’s possible for spring football practices to resume at a later date, Sankey said.


The conference has suspended all activities through April 15.


Based on recommendations from the NCAA, World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it remains unclear when it will be safe to resume large gatherings like a football practice.


Another concern weighing on SEC leaders is the financial implications of the shutdown. A heavy majority of annual revenue earned by the NCAA and given to its schools comes from the national men’s basketball tournament known as March Madness, which was called off.


"While (the NCAA) has insurance and some reserves, that would likely not be enough to fulfill its obligations to the membership in the short term," Sterk wrote.


Missouri has extended its deadline to renew season tickets for the 2020 football season until May 31, which coincides with the Tiger Scholarship Fund deadline.


"Now more than ever, our student-athletes need your continued generosity and support," Sterk wrote of the 550 Tiger student-athletes. "It is important that we as an athletics department remain a source of stability for our student-athletes and continue to serve them to the best of our abilities in the coming days and weeks."


The nationally ranked Missouri softball team was 19-7 overall and tied for first in the SEC with a sweep over Mississippi in the only weekend of league action.


MU baseball won seven straight games heading in conference play. The Tigers had flown to Chicago en route to playing at Alabama before being turned around and returning to Columbia because of ongoing health precautions.


Missouri’s indoor track and field team was already in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to compete at the NCAA Championships when the cancellations were announced.


"It is my belief that intercollegiate athletics as well as the world in which we live in are going to be operating differently than what we have been accustomed at least in the short term. There will be a new normal," Sterk said.


"What that looks like for universities across the nation as well as their athletics programs will depend upon how hard and how long this pandemic hits our community and the nation. I believe that we are more likely in the early stages of our challenges than the end, but I am confident that we will get through this, no matter how long it takes."


eblum@columbiatribune.com