Seton Hall student athletes discuss possible extra year of eligibility

On March 13, the NCAA announced that all spring sport athletes would receive an extra year of eligibility due to the coronavirus.  This came just one day after the NCAA decided to cancel all winter and spring seasons and tournaments, including March Madness.

The NCAA’s decision is not yet final and still up for vote on March 30, but granting an extra year of eligibility was certainly a nice gesture. However, it still doesn’t do enough for the student athletes, particularly the seniors, who saw their seasons get ripped away. And while sports are a privilege, they do become a part of the individual. So when senior student athletes lose something that they put so much time into every single day, it’s easy to understand why emotions run high.

Photo via SHU Athletics

What the average person may not understand is that the vast majority of student-athletes who were given this opportunity of staying an extra year in college have much more on their plate than the simple question of staying or leaving.  More often than not, it boils down to money. Whether it’s a stud baseball player who has the chance to make millions in the MLB, or a four-year bench player on the lacrosse team who has an offer on the table to jump-start their business career, one thing is evident: money makes the decisions.

For a lot of the seniors on the Seton Hall women’s golf and women’s tennis teams, this mindset is not the same.  They don’t want their athletic careers to end like that. Rather, they want to continue their legacies and go out on their own terms. And how can you argue with that?  Playing in a conference like the Big East is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Senior golfer Lizzie Win, who made the All-Big East Team the past two seasons, was primed for one last run with her fellow Pirates. 

“I was extremely upset and devastated that I wouldn’t get to finish out the season,” she said, “I was really looking forward to competing at conference this year.  It was our year to win.”

The Pirates had a great shot to take home the 2020 Big East Championship.  After finishing in third place a year ago, they brought back all five golfers who competed in that 2019 conference championship.  That experience and skill could have definitely propelled Seton Hall to its fourth Big East Championship in seven years. However, Win still strives to earn that title.  She said she will take the extra year at Seton Hall if given to her, explaining that “As a two-season sport, our whole year of eligibility applies to both fall and spring seasons.”  Because of that, Win wouldn’t need to wait all the way until the spring of 2021 to compete at the collegiate level again, but rather could start back up in the fall of 2020. 

“Every athlete has a different reason to come back,” Win said.  “Seton Hall has been my home for the past four years and I would like to finish what I started.”

Teammate Maddie Sager, who is also a senior, agreed with Win that she would use the extra year of eligibility, contingent on the “possibility of grad school, scholarship, and my job, as well as the state of the economy.” 

Sager brings up a valid point that a lot of athletes are sure to consider.  For a senior, if all your credits are done, would it make more sense to use that fifth year at the same school, or if the NCAA allows, use it at a separate school for graduate studies?  It’s an interesting point of view, and while the NCAA will surely have to clarify some rulings, Sager believes the rightful first step was to grant that extra year: 

“I wasn’t expecting to get another year, so I am very happy with their decision,” she said.

While Win and Sager plan on taking that extra year if everything works out, Mekeila Erspamer, a former Seton Hall tennis player, has an interesting point of view.  Erspamer, who played for the Pirates for a season and a half, wasn’t on the roster for the most recent season in the spring of 2020. However, barring NCAA rules, she may still be able to gain an extra year of eligibility.  But the California native doesn’t see herself taking that extra year. 

“I feel that the opportunities in my life need to be taken now and are more important than playing another year of tennis,” Erspamer said. “I also feel that physically I cannot play at this level anymore because injuries are becoming more chronic and I don’t want to risk not being able to enjoy my life doing other physical activities.” 

While Erspamer agreed with the NCAA’s decision, her choice is in line with a lot of college athletes. Is one more year at the collegiate level worth it if it means putting off business opportunities?  That question will be tackled by every athlete faced with this decision.

Differentiating from Erspamer is Melody Taal, another senior on the Seton Hall tennis team.  Taal said that the NCAA ruling was “too abrupt” and that “they could have informed student athletes in advance that they were considering canceling the season.”  Instead, every student athlete around the country found out from Twitter, by the NCAA or local beat reporters. However, she did agree with the decision to allow an extra year of eligibility

“It’s absolutely fair and it gives the student athlete the choice of returning,” Taal said. “I am definitely considering my extra year of eligibility.  Unfortunately, I only competed in one match as I was recovering from an injury. I feel unfinished.” 

Taal went on to explain that by playing that extra year, she would be going out on her own terms, instead of an abrupt ending to her collegiate tennis career. 

“I want to finish my competitive tennis career at Seton Hall,” she said.

It’s not an easy decision, but in the end, whether it is choosing to stay an extra year in South Orange or forgoing that year and focus on life after collegiate athletics, the reasoning was to move forward to what’s right for each athlete’s future.

Hazard Zet Forward.  It’s what Pirates do.

Mat Mlodzinski can be reached at matthew.mlodzinski@student.shu.edu. Find him on Twitter @Mlodzinski_15.

Author: Mat Mlodzinski

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