As college coaches across the United States begin the recruiting process for upcoming seasons, current players are pressured with the decision to stay in school or proceed with their original post-graduate plans. Student-athletes throughout the United States face tough choices when it comes to future plans for themselves and their respective sports at their current universities. 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.
The goal for many playing a sport at the Div. III level is to win a national championship; but at heart, many play for simply the love of the game. Although Tufts offers several masters programs for students looking to extend their stay in Medford, these programs might not have been as tempting for student-athletes prior to the NCAA announcement.
Senior Taggart Eymer, a member of the men’s varsity lacrosse team who transferred from Bryant University, will be taking advantage of his extra year of athletic eligibility by pursuing a master’s program through the Tufts School of Engineering’s Gordon Institute.
“We had other kids in the past that have taken fifth years on our team, so I talked to a lot of alumni and I found the MSIM program, Master of Science in innovation and management, and that fits in line with exactly what I want to do in the real world,” Eymer said. “It’s kind of like the perfect combination of not only being able to come back and study what I want to study next year but also I have that extra year of eligibility. The eligibility piece was definitely a huge part of it.”
Other seniors are still unsure of their future plans as the school year comes to a close. Senior Eddie Hannon, a member of the men’s varsity hockey team, feels that he’s still on the same path he was on prior to COVID-19, even with a few minor setbacks. Although the unexpected time off from his sport posed troubling questions, Hannon was able to find some answers.
“I wasn’t really driven to get a job,” Hannon said, in the midst of all the uncertainty with his 2020–21 season.
“[The time off] was a hindrance because [I went] from being motivated and happy … and wanting to work hard, [but when I] dealt with the blow of losing the season and losing a major piece of my identity, I had to reshape and figure out who am I without the athletic side, and who am I on campus if I’m not telling people I’m on the hockey team anymore?”
Many student-athletes on campus have taken the required time off from their sports to explore new activities on campus, networking opportunities and themselves.
“It gave me other opportunities to find myself and who I am outside of hockey and make myself happy and explore things I always wish I had more time for,” Hannon said in reference to the fortuitous time he had this past year. “The opportunities and disadvantages even themselves out.”
After working as an intern for EY-Parthenon, senior Hannah Isenhart, a member of the varsity women’s soccer team, made her decision over the summer to postpone her full-time job offer to extend her time at Tufts. Isenhart was actually ahead of the game and made her decision prior to the NCAA’s granting fall 2020 athletes the extra year of eligibility.
“COVID-19 definitely impacted my graduation plans a significant amount,” Isenhart said. “Going into the summer I figured we wouldn’t end up having a senior season and things wouldn’t be normal again for quite some time. After I had my internship this summer at EY-Parthenon, I ended up asking them if I could postpone my offer date for a full-time role and, instead, come back [to Tufts] and take another year off.”
After the company allowed Isenhart to postpone her offer date, she decided to take the fall 2020 semester off and postpone her own graduation. Isenhart will be eligible to play soccer at Tufts this coming fall.
“It was sad not to be on campus but ultimately I’m glad that I’ll get to have a final senior year [season] and get to be here hopefully when things are a little bit more normal than now.”
Senior Nolan Ostmo, a defensive back on the varsity football team, has taken advantage of networking opportunities in his free time.
“This fall semester I was actually still working out with football, and at that point, I was still hoping we would do something in the spring,” Ostmo said. “Once we learned that nothing was going to happen in the spring, that was when I decided that football was not for me anymore at this point and it’s better to focus my attention on other places … I did a lot of networking, which I may not have had time for if I was playing sports and focusing all my energy there.”
Many seniors, like Ostmo, have also used the free time in their senior off-seasons to help mentor younger players during a time when they would normally be “retired,” and coaches have made the most out of having a full roster in the off-season to prepare for upcoming seasons.
“While I was going through the process of figuring out what I was going to do in my senior year, I think my teammates and coaches both influenced me to at least participate in the athletics going on in football,” said Ostmo. “We were going through general practices and lifts, which I still wanted to be a part of to, at least, lead the younger football guys through what we do here and show them the ropes to set an example for them.”
Senior Kirsten Grazewski, a member of the women’s lacrosse team, felt that her team was the biggest influence in her commitment to play her final season this year rather than pursuing her extra eligibility.
“My biggest reason is my senior class. I don’t think I would have wanted to complete my last season with anybody except for them, even if it is a limited season,” Grazewski said. “I think that for me the most important thing in terms of lacrosse is my teammates, and even with COVID, I still get to make very valuable memories with them and spend tons of time with them. So with or without a full season I still get the full experience.”
Traditionally, student-athletes are given four seasons to play their sports, but with the new NCAA eligibility rules, there will be some differences during the 2021–22 school year. The change will affect recruiting numbers and roster sizes for the next couple of years, especially if athletes affected by COVID-19 continue to take fifth years to extend their time with their respective sports and teams. There will certainly be an increase in competition for roster spots for current players and incoming recruits, but returning Jumbos are up for the challenge to improve themselves and the status of their teams in the process.