From left, Keith Woetzel, a senior linebacker on the football team, Henry D’Alberto, the head coach of the men’s golf team and Jack Martin-Dyer, a senior men’s tennis player. The NCAA announced that spring athletes will have the chance to return for a fifth season. (Photos courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Student-athletes ponder extra eligibility granted by NCAA

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Collegiate spring athletes will have the chance to return for a fifth season if they choose, the NCAA announced last week. 

This decision must be approved by the Patriot League before the ruling may be applied to Lehigh student-athletes. The NCAA made this statement public shortly after canceling the upcoming spring athletic season on March 12 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

The cancellation of the remaining season shocked the college sports world within hours. Senior student-athletes across the country feared they would never get another opportunity to play the sport they love alongside their teammates and coaches.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” said senior men’s tennis player Jack Martin-Dyer. “Being a senior too, I felt like this is my last shot to get a Patriot League tournament ring, and we’ve been getting closer every year — the team’s been getting better… I was pretty devastated, but now I’m starting to hope there’s a chance I’ll be back next year.”

If the Patriot League approves the NCAA ruling that student-athletes will be granted a fifth year of eligibility, some will opt to return — but others will not. The abruptness of a decision of this magnitude comes at a time when many seniors have already cemented their post-graduation plans. 

Senior Keith Woetzel, a linebacker on the football team, decided to extend his academic and playing career with a fifth year at the University of Buffalo well before the coronavirus emerged. He said this decision is subjective.

“I think it’s all dependent on the athlete,” Woetzel said. “Some kids could graduate right out of college and have a great job lined up that’s going to have a career path for them. Sometimes, that one year of eligibility could benefit them in getting a master’s degree.”

Similarly, some student-athletes can greatly benefit from another year of eligibility in their athletic endeavors. Seniors with professional aspirations may consider returning to Lehigh or using their fifth year at a different university to increase their chances of professional play.

This is the case with Woetzel.

“Weighing my football options, I’ve always been really competitive with trying to succeed in football and all athletics, so I’ve always been looking for that new challenge,” he said. “I had a pretty successful senior year, and I was really looking for that next step to maybe take me to that professional route, if that was ever an option.”

Not every student-athlete, however, who utilizes their fifth year of eligibility necessarily has hopes of playing their sport professionally.

Martin-Dyer said a fifth year opportunity appeals to him because of Lehigh’s strong one-year master’s programs, as well as his close bonds with his teammates and coach.

“Obviously, I love tennis, but I’m not going to be a professional tennis player at the end of the day,” he said. “My team, my coach — I’ve known those guys for so long, and I’ve grown so close to my coach and the guys on the team, so even that is a big factor.”

Martin-Dyer studies finance with an economics track and is minoring in Chinese. He said he is applying for master’s programs in either financial engineering, applied economics or statistics. 

Henry D’Alberto, the head coach of the men’s golf team, said his team was traveling in California when they received the news last week. He said he felt “very disappointed and very sad” for the two seniors on the team. 

“If it officially goes through and my seniors have the opportunity and want to do it, it would be a great second chance,” D’Alberto said.

If the Patriot League decides to maintain the NCAA ruling, which Martin-Dyer is confident it will, then Lehigh student-athletes will have some thinking to do in the coming months. For some, like Martin-Dyer, it will serve as a chance for redemption of a lost senior season.

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