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NCAA extends extra year of eligibility to spring sport athletes

The Western Washington University softball team huddles up on Tuesday, Apr. 9, 2019. Spring athletes are being offered an extra season of eligibility due to COVID-19. // Photo by Zachary Jimenez

For this year’s seniors, the 2020 season doesn't have to be the last one

By Kevin Mullin

Like many other on-campus activities, collegiate sports were shuttered this spring as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to make up for the lost season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body in charge of college athletics, announced at the end of March that it has offered spring athletes an extra season of eligibility.

In Division II, student-athletes have four seasons per sport of eligibility to compete over the course of five years of collegiate enrollment. Athletes have the option to take a season off of competition for injury and return for that fifth year, a process called redshirting.

Some Viking athletes plan to use this extra year to have a normal final season while they continue their education at Western.

Fourth-year softball outfielder Lauren Lo said she would be taking the extra season. “This is the last year I would be able to play, I want to take advantage of that...I just got into the masters program for accounting here, so it works out well for eligibility.”

Second-year rower Brenna Rice is considering the possibility, and is also weighing the option of postgraduate education. “I love rowing, and I would love for my extra time to be spent rowing, so with that extra year in the two years of grad school, I could potentially be rowing through grad school,” Rice said.

For other athletes, it’s a little too soon to make the call for sure. When asked if she’ll be using the extra season, third-year softball pitcher Anna Kasner said, “I don't know, things could always change. I could play next year and think ‘Oh, I actually do want to do a sixth year.’ I think I have options, nothing is set in stone.”

For student athletes who rely on scholarships to pay their way through school, changes in scholarship structure may play a part in their decision to take the extra year or not.

When asked if returning seniors would get the same amount of aid, Dr. T.H ‘Butch’ Kamena, assistant athletics director for NCAA compliance, said, “That’s something that’s under review right now. The NCAA would permit us to provide the full aid, but it’s something that we’re reviewing right now; we’ll have to determine as we go forward.”

One thing it seems most people agree wholeheartedly on is that the decision by the NCAA to extend an extra year of eligibility was the right one.

“Oh for sure, it was definitely the right choice, especially for the seniors,” Kasner said. “That’s not fair, seniors need to have a senior night, an opportunity to know it’s the last game.”

Lo mentioned the uniqueness of the collegiate sport experience in her support of the decision. 

“This is our last shot we get to do something we’re really passionate about,” she said. “Our team always talks about how we really cherish these moments because we’re never going to get this experience anywhere else, and so to have one more year is really nice.”

When asked if she thought the decision was the right one, Rice said, “Yes, I do …everyone’s been training hard up until this point …I’m really glad that the NCAA granted another year of eligibility because nobody has actually competed yet.”

The athletes were not the only ones in support of the decision.

Kamena offered his support as well. “I think it was a pretty straightforward move. You’ve basically had a season of competition removed from everyone, and so I think this was a straightforward way to address that.”

Despite this break from competition and physical separation from each other, the Viking athletes are still keeping up their esprit de corps.

Kasner said of the softball team, “We have team Zoom calls, we’re still keeping in touch with each other. I think it's really important to make sure that our community and bonds are still there … but I just think that we’re using this as a way to better ourselves and figure out how to make ourselves better whether that's on the field or in the classroom.”

Western’s crew team is also doing their best to stay connected.

When asked about some rower’s goals for the upcoming season, Rice said, “Get to the [National] championships … building team dynamic, building strength and conditioning and the I think just working as hard as we can ourselves and trying to stay in contact with each other in the meantime to help build that team dynamic.”

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