The 2020 school year was completely uprooted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially impacted college sports. In late March of 2020, the NCAA released statements that granted spring sport collegiate athletes an extra year of eligibility. When the COVID-19 pandemic encroached upon the 2020-2021 school year, the NCAA granted the extra year of eligibility to fall and winter sports teams as well.
Traditionally, a student-athlete has 5 years to play 4 years of their sport. An extra year means a current college student-athlete would have 6 years to play their 4 years. This means, NCAA student-athletes can compete in all or a portion of the 2020-21 season, but it won’t be counted against their years of eligibility depending on their division level specific eligibility rules.
Student-athletes were faced to make a decision regarding their education and athletic career. Though some athletes were devastated to lose a season to the pandemic, taking a fifth year of eligibility may not have been possible for a number of reasons. To start, the logistics of scholarship and grant money were difficult to navigate, especially while individual universities were struggling financially. At Division III schools, student-athletes are not granted any athletic scholarship, so attending school for an additional year can be extremely expensive.
Another difficult aspect of this decision is the want and need to enter the professional career world. Student-athletes spend the majority of their college career devoted to their sport, while simultaneously studying to excel post-grad in their industry of choice.
On the other hand, some athletes made the decision to take their fifth year of eligibility without a shadow of a doubt. The cancellation of the majority of the 2020 season drove many athletes to replace their lost athletics with a new chance at competition.
Megan Motkowski is a fifth year senior at Ithaca College, and returned to play another year on the women's lacrosse team.
"I came back to play a fifth year because an opportunity was given to me because I wasn't ready for my lacrosse career to be over," Motkowski said.
Photo by Bomber Sports
The IC women's lacrosse team was only able to play five games before COVID cancelled the remaining portion of their 2020 season. Last spring, the team returned to a full season of play, finishing with a record of 14-2 and advancing to the Elite 8 of NCAA Women's Lacrosse championship tournament.
"We had such a great end to our 2021 season," said Motkowski. "It was an easy choice to stay."