At the outset of the 2020 spring season, the National Collegiate Athletic Association made the decision to cancel all spring championships due to COVID-19, which was followed by the decision from individual conferences to cancel regular season play. This decision left many seniors stunned. All they had worked for from their days in little league all the way up through high school and college would be washed away, without a proper grand finale.
To remedy this, the NCAA has allowed for all spring athletes, underclassmen and juniors included, to have one extra year of eligibility by offering a spring elibility waiver. This gives seniors, in particular, the chance to come back and play out a final season, bidding a proper farewell to the sport which many have dedicated their entire lives to.
“The basis of the waiver is that it only grants one more semester, and one more year of eligibility,” said Fitchburg State Athletic Director Matt Burke. “We are granted the opportunity to apply the waiver if we have a case that needs it.”
This doesn’t come without a catch, however. Any senior student athlete who is planning on returning for one more season to play out the last of their eligibility must still be enrolled in school. This means that if a student is graduating and receiving their degree this spring, they must come back and apply for their masters to still be enrolled and eligible.
“It is a very individualized waiver, and approach. Everyone’s case is a little different, everybody’s eligibility situation is a little bit different so it really has to be looked at on a case by case basis,” said Burke.
There are 20 listed seniors among all five spring sports. Eight for baseball, four for softball and women’s lacrosse, and two each for men’s and women’s outdoor track and field. Among them is baseball senior Jack Gallant, from Nova Scotia, Canada.
“I think it’s great that they allow seniors to come back and get another chance at their senior season,” said Gallant. “For a lot of students, especially on our baseball team, they live close and have a good chance at coming back to do their masters or finish up their undergrad.”
Gallant is on a student visa in Massachusetts and must leave the country upon concluding his studies. “In order for me to be able to play baseball again I would need a whole new visa and apply for a masters. By the time everything is set for me to come back, it would most likely be later than the upcoming season.”
Although returning to Fitchburg is not in the cards for every student athlete, by offering the eligibility waiver the NCAA has created a compromise for athletes caught in these unexpected circumstances.