COVID-19 senior athletes take advantage of extra year of eligibility

The pandemic caused a majority of collegiate-level sports to be canceled; at SIUE, all athletes were given an extra year of eligibility, but for seniors, they had to make a decision between another year competing or starting their careers.


Senior baseball pitcher Rob Parks, of St. Louis, said he remembered the exact moment he began to worry about the possibility of his last season being canceled. 


“I actually remember we were [at] a road game at Missouri State and we were on our way back … I think the first [time the baseball team and I] knew it was real [was when] NBA games were getting canceled and they were starting to cancel their season,” Parks said. “Then we got notifications that college conferences across the country were canceling games and weren’t going to play anymore … We were kind of in shock.”


Director of Athletics Tim Hall said the NCAA voted for the extra year of eligibility in an effort to make it right for seniors that couldn’t control the pandemic taking away what was supposed to be their final seasons.


“They all got together and said, ‘In an effort to help these young people who are losing their seasons of eligibility, we think it’s the right thing to do,” Hall said.


Hall said student athletes have to continue enrollment in academic courses at SIUE as a condition of using the extra year of eligibility. He said some students are taking this opportunity to start a graduate program and have one year paid for through scholarship. 


“Now if they’ve already graduated — which a lot of our student-athletes do, they graduate before they exhaust their eligibility — they start a master’s program,” Hall said. “Maybe they’ll say ‘Hey I’ll wait around to start taking classes toward a master’s.”


Senior track and field distance runner Keri Burmester, of Red Bud, Illinois, is doing just that. She said she decided to use her extra year of eligibility while she started a graduate program in exercise science and sports psychology, which she hopes to finish in a year and a half.


“Originally, if the season went on, I did not have any plans to continue running anymore because I would’ve been done [with my eligible years]. But I was already enrolled in grad school here, so I was like, ‘I might as well just take up that year,” Burmester said. “I was also a senior and I wanted to be able to finish it the way I had wanted to.”


Hall said an issue that may arise for coaches with their coming seasons is the lack-of roster availability and scholarship opportunities for incoming freshman. 


“The NCAA made [it] possible for institutions to say, ‘If you have seniors who are in their last year of eligibility, and their season was disrupted [or] canceled due to COVID-19, we will allow the institutions … to have those kids come back on whatever scholarship they were on and have it not count against the team totals,” Hall said.


Hall said there are only a certain amount of scholarships available for each program. He said the NCAA is in charge of determining how many scholarships will be given out, but last year’s seniors returning for another season of play while on scholarship wouldn’t count toward these totals.


“Women’s Basketball has 15 full scholarships,” Hall said. “So say there were two seniors currently who said I want to come back next year. They could come back and we could give them their full scholarship, but those two don’t count against the 15 total.”


As Women’s Indoor Track and Field season has finished, Burmester said the event she was most excited about was the 10 kilometer run. 


“Surprisingly [I was most excited about] running the 10k, because that’s kind of been my thing since sophomore year and I never was a fan of it,” Burmester said. “Then once I found out I couldn’t finish [my season] off, I already had a bad race my junior year, so I wanted to be able to finish and go out on top. I felt the most prepared that season to have a good race, so I guess getting to be able to run that again was exciting for me.” 

Check the Cougars Athletics website for upcoming games.

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