A 5th Season?

by Yau-Meng Wong

NCAA Extends Eligibility For Spring Sport Athletes

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced nearly all sporting authorities to make some tough decisions, including college-level athletics. Partaking in the 2020 season is essential in many college athletes' future careers, especially for seniors. The cancelation of the entire season for spring sports—like baseball, volleyball, track, lacrosse, crew, and others—has created an unprecedented situation for the NCAA, the lead organization in US college athletics.

Meeting on March 30, the NCAA’s Division I Council voted to give all spring athletes an extra year of eligibility, meaning that they are allowed to play an extra season at the college level before moving onto whatever lays ahead, whether that means continuing their sporting career or not. Previously, Division I rules stated that athletes could compete in four seasons of their sport, but spread out within a 5 year period however they so choose. This rule proved vital for athletes who suffered a season-ending injury or similar condition that put them on the bench. Now, students who competed in the 2020 spring season, which was just beginning for some sports before it was cut short, can restore one of their five years of eligibility. For those who exhausted their 5 years by 2020, they can compete in their 4th competitive season in the 6th year of eligibility.

Now senior spring athletes are faced with a choice that could heavily impact their futures: either take advantage of the extra year granted to them to replace their cancelled senior season or graduate in 2020 and move on with their lives. However, the deciding factors will be different for each student. Monetarily, competing in another season may be impossible for some. The Division I Council adjusted financial aid rules so that schools are not required to provide the same amount of aid in a student's newly granted extra year of eligibility as they provided in the 2019-20 season. This adjustment minimizes a school’s financial loss due to a higher number of students on athletic aid than expected next year but puts athletes who can’t afford a year without the same aid as they were previously afforded at a loss. For students who were looking to go into professional sport, their senior season was a proving ground of sorts. They could exhibit their athletic potential to scouting coaches and teams, hoping for placement on a professional program. For these students, choosing to spend another year at the college level is crucial for their future, but there’s no right answer.

Situations like these have become all too common with the rise of COVID-19. For those at a critical turning point in their lives, it could not have come at a worse time. Thankfully, there’s consolation in the fact that we are all truly in this together. Check up on friends and family and lean on them if you’re in need of support. College athletes’ difficult position is just one of many ways the pandemic is affecting our lives.