By Jordan Moore
As if being a student-athlete wasn’t hard enough, many seniors are faced with one of the toughest decisions of their lives at an early age during the coronavirus pandemic.
College seniors at schools across the United States, under the National Collegiate Athletic Association, haven’t been given any favors during the COVID-19 crisis. Many athletes during their final year of competition have been given a final year of eligibility.
The catch is, the final year of eligibility is only given back to spring sport athletes that have not gone through a third of their season. Winter athletes that had just finished their regular season in March just before the pandemic hit will not be able to gain that year of eligibility back.
The NCAA saying in a statement in early April, that “winter student-athletes may not be given their year of eligibility back.” The main reasoning behind the decision being that the athletes had already played over a third of their season. But what about playoffs? The incredible postseason tournaments? What about a once in a lifetime shot at a national championship? If a student-athlete is in the senior year of his or her eligibility, their athletic careers are over. Unless given the opportunity to compete professionally, these student’s athletic careers are over. These are circumstances that winter sports athletes have to deal with.
For spring sport athletes, the decision of if to stay in college and continue paying a fortune resides over their heads. It’s either a decision of taking bogus classes to meet the eligibility requirements if he or she isn’t on pace to graduate, or it’s paying an extra two to four years of tuition for graduate school.
The decision for these student-athletes really comes down to money. And for an institution like the NCAA that says it looks out for their student-athletes and prepares them to become successful later in life, it doesn’t seem that this is the case at all. The NCAA is the same institution that will not let student-athletes make money off of their personal brand. While these are unprecedented times, the NCAA has the opportunity to step up to the plate and support student-athlete decisions by eliminating the financial burden that they are faced with.
Katie Wyman, a field hockey and lacrosse player at Longwood University faced a tough decision this spring. Wyman, a redshirt senior at Longwood has been with the Lancers athletic program for five years. Since she is a redshirt, Wyman was actually on pace to graduate last year but decided to get her nursing license while she played sports.
“I decided to come back to school so that I could play the sport I love. I have my whole life to work at a 9-5 job, but I don’t have my whole life to play sports.” Being a dual-sport athlete, Wyman played in the fall for the Longwood lacrosse program, but only played four games in the spring before her season was canceled because of the coronavirus. “It was totally a bummer,” said Wyman. “I wasn’t prepared for my season to end this way. I wasn’t prepared for my athletic career to end this way. I wanted to finish out my college athletic career with my best friends.”
On pace to graduate early, Wyman didn’t have the financial means to go an extra year in nursing school. “I’m at the point where I need to make money at a full-time job. It’s not that I don’t want to come back for that extra year, I just can’t afford it at this time.” With finances looming over her head, Wyman was faced with graduating late this spring and forgoing her last season on the lacrosse field.
Wyman isn’t the only collegiate athlete faced with this burden. Madison Kettell, a true Senior lacrosse player at the University of Florida also made the decision to forgo her senior year of eligibility. Ketell saying “it’s not that I don’t want to finish the season and play with my girls, but the timing just wouldn’t make sense.”
Ketell graduated late this spring and has no desire to attend graduate school. Without the graduate school option, Ketell and other student-athletes in her same position don’t have a way to be registered as a full-time student, an NCAA requirement for eligibility. Without graduate-level courses to register for, these senior-level student-athletes have no means to stay on campus for their extra added year of eligibility. Some of these student-athletes are starters. Most are key, an integral part of their team’s success. It’s a real shame that these young athletes are faced with this tough decision to forgo their seasons.
Administrations that abide by NCAA regulations, under the organization’s rules have decided to not comment about student-athlete decisions. Among this pandemic, many universities have simply left their student-athletes out to dry. Forcing all students off of campus during the crisis, many universities have sent athletes, and regular students home with no way to gather their supplies or their items.
Most student-athletes that are from out of state, or even out of the country were simply given the boot off of campus. This is the same for the student-athletes who make a fortune for these universities. When calling the University athletic department to ask about why they simply kicked student-athletes off of campus, why they aren’t refuting the NCAA’s decision making on making senior student-athletes pay for a whole extra grad school program, the school left a generic response saying “we cannot speak on those matters at this time, but we support our student-athletes to the fullest extent.”
The University of Florida made nearly $48 million off of their collegiate athletics in 2019, in the top ten percent of all division one athletic teams. But when asked about why they cannot pay for a non-scholarship athlete’s graduate program that makes up less than one percent of their profitability, the school declined to comment. This is happening at every NCAA sanctioned school across the United States.
From the Division 3 level to the Division 1 level, the universities under the NCAA rule will not have the courage to go against the association because of the financial gain made under the organization. “There’s no regard for student-athletes. It seems like we are simply being used to make a profit and create diversity amongst sports programs.” Ketell, now a former student-athlete at Florida says she didn’t have the courage to speak out about the corrupt nature of her athletic program and the NCAA but now says she feels as though she has nothing the lose.