April 15, 2020

PU’s Decision to Deny Extra Spring Eligibility Sparks Cries of Protest from Impacted Athletes

By Bill Alden

While the NCAA announced in late March that member schools could extend an extra year of eligibility to all spring sport athletes, Princeton University has decided that it will not allow student athletes who withdraw from school this spring to get that additional season.

As reported in the Daily Princetonian on April 9, Princeton Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan ’91 sent an email that day to spring sport athletes advising them of the University’s position on the issue.

In her email to the athletes, Samaan noted that “due to the University’s strong belief that all students should remain in school now more than ever, Princeton has decided that it will not approve the necessary waivers for students who withdraw from the Spring ’20 semester to use their 5th year of eligibility at Princeton.”

The Ivy League had previously announced that it would not be changing its policy that prevents graduate students from competing in athletic events, thereby limiting athletes to four years of undergraduate athletics.

Ivy schools learned last Thursday that “withdraw and re-enroll” eligibility would be an institutional decision, with Yale and Princeton administrations electing to disallow a loophole that would have created an option for Ivy seniors to play during the spring of 2021 semester through withdrawing from school now and returning next year with the necessary waivers.

According to a statement from University Spokesperson Ben Chang to the “Prince,” the determination came from Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber.

“The ultimate decision was made by President Eisgruber in consultation with other administrators,” said Chang.

Samaan, for her part, showed her sympathy to the athletes in the email. “I know this news will be very disappointing,” said Samaan. “I am very sorry I don’t have different news to share.”

In response to Princeton’s decision, a group of current Princeton student-athletes wrote an editorial under the condition of anonymity that ran in the “Prince” on April 10 “to express our deep disappointment with the University’s decision.”

While saying that they were grateful for the chance to compete for Princeton athletics, they asserted that they “believe the University’s choice not to allow senior spring-sport student-athletes to return for their final competition seasons is the incorrect one.”

Acknowledging that allowing “all classes of spring-sport athletes to return for an extra year could strain resources … we believe the opportunity for current seniors to finish their spring seasons next year at Princeton is feasible — and a chance the Class of 2020 should have been afforded.”

They added that they “hope that this opportunity is not yet lost” and that the “University will align itself with the NCAA and reconsider its decision.”

Pointing out that there “is extensive precedent for Ivy League student-athletes graduating in four non-consecutive years,” they asserted that “this year’s senior spring-sport student-athletes could not have foreseen the COVID-19 pandemic; they did not have the luxury of taking the traditional redshirt route.”

Conceding that the NCAA is “not perfect,” the athletes asserted that the organization’s March 30 decision “gave us the chance to be treated like every other undergraduate: allowed to return to our schools and our extracurriculars for another on-campus season if we wanted. Princeton has taken away that choice.”

In conclusion, they stated that while Princeton and the Ivy League often “stand out from the NCAA for the right reasons; today, they stand out for the wrong ones.”

In fallout from the Princeton decision, Inside Lacrosse has reported that Tiger senior men’s lacrosse stars Michael Sowers, Connor McCarthy, and Philip Robertson have entered the NCAA transfer portal. Such a move would give them the chance to play a final season at another school that is following the NCAA ruling on extra eligibility.