Amid season cancellations, NCAA extends eligibility: Brewers face possibility of continuing athletic careers

Juliette Pope/The Miscellany News

On March 12, the NCAA announced that all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships would be canceled in wake of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Within 24 hours, the Liberty League and Vassar College Athletics followed suit, suspending all regular-season and championship contests. Though this decision prioritized the safety of student-athletes and their communities, it left most confused, disappointed and heartbroken.

“I, along with my whole team, was devastated,” recalled Vassar men’s lacrosse sophomore Logan Hyde. “At that point the implications hadn’t really set in.”

Like all spring sports, men’s lacrosse trained throughout the fall and winter to prepare for their season. Hyde had hoped that his team’s hard work and dedication would make them “strong contenders in the Liberty League.” Despite a hot start, the Brewers were only able to complete a fraction of their scheduled matches before competition was halted. “I was most disappointed that we weren’t able to see all of our hard work come to fruition,” said Hyde. “We had only played five of our 15 regular-season games.” 

The entire Vassar Athletics community—coaches, administrators, trainers—echoed similar sentiments. “I went through some of the normal stages of grief, denial, bargaining, anger—back to denial,” said men’s volleyball head coach Richard Gary. Brewers volleyball, once ranked second in the nation, was cut short of reaching its ultimate goal: a national championship. To Gary, it was most difficult to think of each individual, “[from] seniors, losing their chance to finish what they started, down to freshmen who were only beginning to have the breakthroughs and see their potential.”

While all Brewers mourned the loss of their seasons, many seniors, forced to end their athletic careers in abrupt and untimely fashions, were stuck in states of disbelief. There would be no final practices, senior days, or last-chance efforts at Liberty League championships.

“I was heartbroken when I heard my last season was cut short,” remembered senior men’s volleyball captain Ghali “G” Khalil. “This wasn’t an ending we could have ever imagined.”

Athletes across all sports shared similar experiences of shock. “As a senior I knew my time on the field was coming to an end,” reflected senior baseball player Jake Silver, “but this all happened so quickly that it felt like a nightmare.” Silver and the Vassar baseball team were just halfway through their spring break training trip in Florida when the news hit. “Having it end as abruptly as it did was unimaginable … It really all came and went in the blink of an eye.”

For underclassmen, rushing to say goodbye to graduating captains, leaders and friends was just as upsetting. 

“We lost the ability to truly send off and say goodbye to our seniors. Both on and off the court, they have been my friends and my role models. They have made me a better player and a better person,” said sophomore men’s volleyball player Jake Kaplan. 

Sophomore baseball player Sam Brinster felt similar remorse, noting that “not getting the chance to finish this year with the seniors is a shame.” He too, however, is grateful for the time he was able to spend with his team: “Within that group I can name some very good friends, some I hope to have for a lifetime. This season just can’t be replaced.”

In an unexpected turn of events just days later, the NCAA made an unprecedented announcement: spring athletes would be granted another year of athletic eligibility. 

Per NCAA regulations, single-sport athletes are granted four years of eligibility at the collegiate level. Generally, these are exhausted during one’s time as an undergraduate. However, in the event that an athlete “redshirts” or misses an undergraduate season due to injury, he or she is able to take a fifth year to make up for the missed season. This is uncommon at the Division III level, but not unheard of. Just this year, Class of 2019 graduate Paul Grinde, who missed his sophomore basketball season due to an ACL injury, used his fifth year of eligibility at Clemson University. A 1000 point scorer for the Brewers, Grinde appeared in nine games for the Tigers and recorded a 62.5 percent field goal percentage.

“The experiences I had this year alone will last me a lifetime. I got to compete at the highest level against some of the best players in the country,” Grinde explained. “That being said, I think kids at the [Division III] level tend to get burnt out from school. It’s hard to stick with something for so long, and four years of college can take its toll.”

Grinde’s point rings true—at Division III schools, most athletes do not plan to continue their collegiate athletic careers after graduation. However, in light of the NCAA’s decision, this may change. 

Sophomore Zach Magee always wanted to play professional baseball, but he assumed his college career would start and end at Vassar. However, after this spring, his mindset has shifted. While Magee plans to complete his junior and senior seasons as a Brewer, his final year of eligibility presents an unexpected opportunity: “Now with the chance to play [another] year, I’ll hopefully continue to develop and get exposure.” This fifth year will hopefully help Magee “make the jump to play at the next level.”

While underclassmen like Magee may see this additional year of eligibility as time to prepare for their future athletic careers, many retiring seniors see it as a chance to stay on the field, court or track for just a little while longer.

This is the case for senior baseball captain Matt Martino, who, after also missing his sophomore season, now has two remaining years of athletic eligibility. With this in mind, he is seriously considering playing baseball in graduate school: “[Baseball] has been such a big part of my life up to this point…I’d like to play as long as I am healthy and have the opportunity to do so.”

Though Martino would ideally continue his career beyond Vassar, he says that finding an academically suitable and affordable graduate school with a strong baseball program is easier said than done: “I’m not sure what the future holds, but whatever decision I come to, I know it will be what’s best for me and my family.”

While some seniors like Martino are excited by the prospect of continuing their careers, others understand that this is not a possibility for them. Khalil, who plans to attend medical school in the fall, has accepted this unfortunate reality. “As much as I love volleyball, it’s almost impossible to play during medical school,” he said. “That means my extra year of eligibility has gone to waste.” 

Senior Jake Silver, similarly, will not be able to capitalize on his bonus year. Starting this summer, he will work for Cohen & Steers, a New York City asset management firm. Though his baseball career is ending, Silver hopes that others will come away from this situation with a greater appreciation of the game: “I’d like to urge every student-athlete to enjoy every moment they have playing the sport they love…it’s important to play every game like it’s your last.”

Silver’s message weighs heavy on the hearts of many underclassmen, including men’s volleyball first-year Andrew Kim who, like many others, has been forced to recognize the finite nature of his athletic career. Despite the premature end to his freshman season, Kim remains grateful for his experiences: “Vassar Athletics is incredibly special because it is a tight-knit community with the greatest people you could ever befriend. Beyond the athletics, you get to appreciate not only your teammates, but the other amazing athletes on campus.”

Many, like Kim, recognize the uniqueness of Vassar Athletics. “Playing anywhere else just wouldn’t be the same,” said sophomore women’s lacrosse player Maya Barrett-Tzannes, who will voluntarily forego her additional year of eligibility. “Nothing compares to the experience of being a Brewer.”

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