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After Spring Season Canceled, NCAA Says Eligibility Relief ‘Appropriate’ for Athletes

Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River.
Many of Harvard College's athletes practice in facilities across the Charles River. By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Ema R. Schumer, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard athletes who were sidelined by the Ivy League’s decision to ax the spring athletics season due to coronavirus will likely receive another year of eligibility, according to a statement put out by the National Collegiate Athletic Association last week.

A day after the NCAA canceled all winter and spring sport championships, the association posted on Twitter that “eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.” The statement added that leagues within the association would sort out the policy’s details “in the coming days and weeks.”

How the NCAA’s statement will affect Harvard athletes remains unclear. Harvard Athletics spokesperson Timothy J. Williamson wrote in a Monday email that Harvard is waiting for the NCAA to release more information on what form relief will take. Ivy League spokesperson Matthew J. Panto wrote in an email that the season’s cancelation is “an unprecedented situation” and also wrote that the Ivy League schools are working with one another to deal with its ramifications, including the “ongoing eligibility of senior spring student-athletes.”

Despite the uncertainty the new policy presents, many Harvard athletes said it represents a step forward for athletes benched by recent cancellations.

Harvard baseball player Kieran K. Shaw ’20 said he was “ecstatic” when he heard the news.

“Having your season taken away from you by circumstances out of your control is frustrating,” he said. “But then being hopefully awarded with another chance to continue to play baseball for a lot of us seniors is a pretty amazing feeling.”

Shaw said he hopes to enter the June 2020 draft for Major League Baseball. Another year of eligibility to play collegiate baseball, he said, provides him with more options.

Harvard runner Anna M. Juul ’21 said the decision did not surprise her.

“It makes a lot of sense,” she said. “I don't know why they wouldn't give the eligibility back considering no one's competing, right?”

If Harvard spring athletes receive another year of eligibility to play collegiate sports, under current policies, they would not be able to do so in Harvard — or at any of the seven other Ivy League schools.

Student-athletes are only eligible to compete for Harvard during their eight semesters of active enrollment at the College, according to the most recently released Harvard student-athlete handbook. Williamson also noted in his email that the Ivy League does not allow graduate student participation in varsity athletics.

Juul, who said she is interested in earning a graduate degree, said she plans to take advantage of the NCAA’s eligibility relief. She acknowledged she will most likely have to enroll at a non-Ivy League institution to do so.

“Harvard on the whole is usually a great place to study and be an athlete. So it's sad,” she said. “There are other great places out there as well, I'll just have to look really hard to try and find something that can compare.”

Harvard baseball player Matthew Thomas ’21 said there are too many unknowns for him to immediately decide whether he plans to take advantage of eligibility relief.

“It totally depends on the other opportunities I have,” he said.

Harvard heavyweight rower Max G. T. Shakespeare ’23 said he does not think he would find fulfillment rowing for a school other than Harvard.

“Suddenly leaving that and going and competing for the opposition,” he said. “I don't think it would mean that much.”

Former Harvard basketball player Kirby P. Porter ’18, who founded Court to Corporate, a media platform that advises athletes, said an athlete’s decision to use their eligibility relief is a personal one.

“There's 98 percent of [college] athletes that go through the process of transition and closure and reidentifying your confidence and leveraging that to succeed in your career,” she said. “But none of us have dealt with this abrupt closure.”

—Staff writer Ema R. Schumer can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @emaschumer.

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