Extra Year of NCAA Eligibility

COVID-19 disrupted many high school senior traditions. They will miss prom, graduation, senior nights, and creating those final high school memories. Many seniors left without be able to complete their final spring seasons. While high school seniors will not have a chance to make-up their missed seasons, seniors in college get a different ending.

On Friday March 13, 2020, students walked into Palo Alto High School oblivious to what the day would bring. Around lunchtime, word started to spread that the school year would be put on pause until after spring break. A couple of weeks in, the district announced school would be closed for the rest of the academic year. Three months filled with major events such as prom, graduation, and fun senior traditions disappeared in an instant. 

Along with school being cancelled, spring sports ended abruptly. Seniors have to miss out on senior nights, final playoff games, and time after school spent with their teammates. 

Seniors throughout Paly were disappointed to hear that their season would be cut short. One of those seniors is girls varsity swim captain Chesnie Cheung (‘20). Cheung had high hopes for the team this year in hopes of clinching a league title.

Cheung tries to block her opponent in a game against Los Altos (Jenna Hickey)

“This season we had some really amazing and talented girls and all of us had a really strong feeling that we were going to win leagues. But along with that, the team had such a fun and happy spirit,” Cheung said. “This is by far my favorite Paly swim team.”

The swim team stays in touch through text messages and Zoom meetings but seeing your teammates through a screen cannot replace the many memories made in the pool. Cheung has the opportunity to continue her swimming career at Tufts University but not all seniors get that chance. 

Seniors in high school are grieving the loss of their last year playing but seniors in college however, received a different ending. 

The NCAA decided to grant an additional season of eligibility to spring sport athlete seniors affected by COVID-19. Seniors playing baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, lacrosse, track and field, beach volleyball, women’s water polo, and rowing would be allowed to come back and play during the 2020-2021 season. 

Unfortunately, this decision does not apply to winter sports such as basketball and gymnastics who were unable to finish their season and had their NCAA championships cancelled. Furthermore, it does not apply to Ivy League schools where they do not allow graduated students to play sports.

Jung-Goldberg has fun on base during a game against Milpitas (Jenna Hickey)

What does this mean for seniors that got a little more than two-thirds of their season stripped from them? We talked to Division I baseball players and Paly alumni, Max Jung-Goldberg (‘18) from the University of San Diego and Josh Kasevich (‘19) from the University of Oregon, to gain some insight.

“I think the NCAA made the right choice in not only giving all the seniors back their eligibility but all spring athletes, I think it would have been a mistake if the NCAA did not give the seniors their season back seeing that they only played about a third [of] it, if that,” Jung-Goldberg said.

But what does that mean for the few who were attending their college on an athletic scholarship? As of now the NCAA has said that scholarships come down to the school and how much aid they can offer. 

“Nobody really knows yet but I am eager to hear what the NCAA does in that area,” Kasevich said.

Jung-Goldberg is also unsure about what the NCAA will do with scholarships but he said, “this year especially there will be a lot of openness because there are a lot of seniors with scholarships.”

For Division III athletes, it is a little bit of a different story. At Division III schools, scholarships are not offered. Paly alum Lindsey Kim (‘19) plays softball at Bates College. For those schools, the families will have to decide if another year is worth it financially.

Even though no scholarships can be given out, Kim understands why the NCAA decided to implement this rule. “Many seniors were heartbroken that they wouldn’t be able to play their last season,” Kim said. “They put in so much time and effort throughout the school year just to have their most sentimental season taken away from them.”

Kasevich currently plays at the University of Oregon (Jenna Hickey)

Many college seniors now have the hard decision of deciding whether or not to come back and finish their season. Jung-Goldberg believes many seniors will decide to not return. 

“Most seniors won’t come back because they have to go to grad school and have to pay for it,” he said. “Or they feel it’s time to move on and hang the spikes up.”

 If some of the seniors decide to come back, that means instead of having the classic freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior team, an extra class will be added. Should there be a limit on how many seniors can return? Kim says the coaches strategically picked the freshmen that would be able to replace the positions of the graduating seniors. 

“If the seniors were to come back, the freshmen may not develop or get as many opportunities because of this,” Kim said. 

Cheung believes the seniors deserve to come back for a final season but she thinks it would take away from the rising freshman and the seniors graduating in 2021. 

“The seniors had their time to shine but this is the incoming freshman’s time to show who they are and what they have to contribute,” Cheung said. “It would also definitely be taking away from the seniors who are supposed to be graduating that year.”

Kim, Kasevich, and Jung-Goldberg all agree the number of returning seniors should not be limited. 

“The situation we got put in was uncontrollable so every senior on every team works just as hard as everyone else,” Jung-Goldberg said. “They should all get their year back if they want it.”

A baseball roster can have up to 35 players on it but the seniors, if they choose to return, will not count towards that number, “ [the] NCAA is doing a really good job letting the seniors come back for another season without affecting the roster sizes,” Kasevich said. “ Especially with the draft being cut short, only five to ten rounds, giving seniors that option to come back is going to be huge for all those guys.”

No one expected the school year to end like this. No spring sports, no prom, and no graduation. No one knows what’s going to happen in the future. Will the NCAA have to grant an extra year of eligibility to fall sports too? Don’t take anything for granted. Savor every laugh, joke, and memory with your teammate and play every game like it’s your last.