Webster University’s fall sports have been moved to the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is causing athletes to take a look at their options. Do they stay and not play or take the year off to keep their extra season of eligibility?
With COVID-19 affecting every aspect of life, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) has created new protocols for players wishing to opt out of the 2020-21 season. Members of Webster University Gorlok athletic teams are weighing their options and deciding whether to compete this school year.
Ben Kowalski, a senior pitcher for the Gorlok baseball team, decided to play this spring if the NCAA allows a 2021 baseball season. He played summer baseball for the Normal CornBelters in the CarShield Collegiate League—normally of the United States Prospect League (USPL), but the USPL didn’t play because of COVID-19. Kowalski said he came to college to play baseball, and it getting cancelled last year hurt immensely.
“It’s devastating to me and everybody else on the team,” Kowalski said. “Playing this summer reminded me why I love doing what I do so much. If we’re going to get the chance to play this year, I just don’t see anything that can stop me from wanting to do that.”
Kowalski said he does not fault anyone for deciding to opt out.
“Everybody’s case is different,” he said. “You can’t control personal sicknesses and stuff family members have. I personally don’t have anything to worry about in that sense, but there’s always the possibility someone would not want to play because of family or sickness.”
Senior Nathan Freyling from the men’s cross country team decided to opt out. He said he wanted an ordinary senior season.
“I just want to go to meets normally and have a normal senior year,” Freyling said on his decision. “I just want, honestly, a regular season that’s not dealing with COVID.”
Freyling said he thought over his choice during the summer, and he decided when the NCAA released new regulations for this season. The new policies cancelled the 2020 regional and national tournaments and restricted competition to just intra-conference play. Once he decided to opt out, Freyling said his coaches and teammates were understanding.
“[Coach] Graber said ‘I support you in whatever decision you’re going to do’,” Freyling said. “All the responses I got [from teammates] were definitely supportive.”
With Freyling deciding to opt out comes problems with his course load. He has a year of NCAA eligibility but only 26 credit hours until he graduates. To compensate, he is taking off the fall 2020 semester to train and retain his last allotted year of competition.
Last season, Freyling came back from an injury to set new personal records and run in the NCAA Midwest Regional alongside other Gorlok runners. Those injury factors were similar to those felt by senior Darieana Hunter, forward for the women’s basketball team. She had a season-ending injury in 2018-19, but played in 2019-20 after a long physical rehab journey. Hunter was on the regular season and tournament conference champion team last year.
She decided to play her final season of eligibility this season, despite her having a pre-existing health condition. Hunter felt her previous injuries had robbed her from part of her college career.
“If we have to play with no fans, if we have to wear a mask when we play, if we have to take a COVID test every single off day, that’s just what we’re going to have to do in order to get our playing time in,” Hunter said. “As long as I do what I’m supposed to do and others do what they’re supposed to do then hopefully this’ll work.”