Webster students have been granted an extra season of their spring sport. Seniors are left deciding what to do after planning on graduating this semester.
Student-athletes are left to deal with wasted weeks of training, lost time with teammates and a year eliminated from their four years of eligibility. The manifestation of COVID-19 across the country is to blame for the premature ending of the spring sports.
Numerous college athletes refuse to have this season taken from them after universities canceled the semester halfway through. Senior track and field athlete Meredith Sowers is one of them.
“Athletes are trained to be determined, to have grit and to never settle,” Sowers said. “Hearing the decision that my season was canceled without any fair warning was devastating. I felt like I was backing down to just accept the decision as is.”
Several petitions for the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) began to surface around the internet. Some advocated for seasons to be postponed rather than canceled, while others called for an extra season of eligibility to be granted.
Webster’s division, NCAA Division III, grants athletes with this extra season.
Webster’s director of athletics Scott Kilgallon believes that this was the ideal route to take amid the pandemic.
“It was a no brainer,” Kilgallon said. “People are dying right now and it does hit a little more home for student-athletes because of all that work and dedication they put in, but it was absolutely the right decision. It’s all about keeping people safe.”
However, this solution presented issues, particularly for senior athletes. Since seniors would have been done with their schooling, they would have to enroll again for another semester.
“For seniors, let’s say they were going to graduate in spring or fall,” Kilgallon said. “They have a couple options that could be explored: either enroll in graduate school, which qualifies for the NCAA, or take a second major or minor to extend out.”
This presents challenges for athletes having to make the decision to continue their education after originally planning to graduate in four years. Sowers said staying in school longer wasn’t an option for her.
“I have planned my entire life around graduating in four years,” Sowers said. “Now, in order to run again I have to take another full year of college?” I am happy for all of the athletes that will now go on to get their masters if they can pay for schooling, I am so happy they will have an opportunity to compete. This just is not the case for most of the other senior athletes. No retribution for us.”
Coaches and athletes agree the loss of a season is hard to overcome. Nick Niehaus, the head track and field coach at Webster, urged athletes to take care of their mental state by trying to remain in a routine.
“Our main focus as a program is outdoor track. To have that be uncontrollably taken away is a very hard pill to swallow, especially for seniors,” Niehaus said. “I care about [the students] and am here if anyone needs to talk.”
As far as the administrative side of events, business carries on as usual. Planning two years ahead is necessary for coaches to continue to recruit.
“Coaching on the administrative side of things hasn’t changed too much,” Niehaus said. “I still recruit as I have been, I just can’t bring recruits to campus.”
Along with recruiting, policies are being readjusted and the NCAA continues to monitor the pandemic for future seasons.
“Outside of athletics, what people don’t see is that we’re always working two years out,” Kilgallon said. “Recruiting, getting officials lined up, compliance, all those types of things, we’re monitoring very closely the NCAA health and safety guidelines. Policies are having to be written to deal with this situation and they change the very next day.”
The university is taking efforts for each student-athlete.
“What we’re also doing is taking each student athlete’s case and we’re sending it to the NCAA, [in order] to make sure we’re interpreting what we think they need to do to move forward,” Kilgallon said. “So that there’s no mistakes made when they make their decision.”