Some student-athletes from Ivy League institutions in the class of 2021 whose seasons have been cancelled due to COVID-19 have been given a rare lifeline to continue their collegiate careers.
In an unprecedented move Thursday morning, the Ivy League Council of Presidents voted to grant current senior student-athletes an extra year of competitive eligibility if they are accepted to, and enroll at, the graduate school of their current university for the 2021-2022 academic year only.
With applications for 2021 graduate admission at Princeton University already closed, it is unclear how much of an impact this new measure will have on Princeton student-athletes.
The move comes after news broke last April that the Ivy League planned to deny spring athletes an extra year of eligibility, signaling that they would uphold their policy barring graduate students from competing in athletics despite the NCAA granting a blanket eligibility waiver for athletes whose seasons were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email sent to Princeton student athletes, the Council of Presidents stated that “this change is a direct result of the pandemic and will not be available in future years.” So, once this waiver expires, Ivy League institutions will continue to be some of only a few Division I colleges that do not allow for graduate students to compete in athletics.
The ruling affects both fall and winter athletes who are currently in their final year, as well as spring-season athletes, who are still holding out for a decision on whether or not they will be able to compete this year. The ruling does not grant an extra year of eligibility to athletes not currently in their senior year.
With multiple Ivy League seniors having already entered the NCAA transfer portal for their respective sports, the timing of the announcement may not be ideal for some. And with the application deadline for all graduate programs at Princeton University having already passed, the opportunity would only be available to student-athletes in the class of 2021 who have already applied to one of the Graduate School's 40 departments. Graduate school admissions decisions are mailed by department starting at end of January through March 15, according to Princeton's Graduate School website.
Athletes will be required to consult with their respective university’s fifth-year advisor to determine if the decision is right for them. The announcement also clarifies that students who choose to take advantage of the waiver and enroll as full-time students in a graduate program at their institution will still be eligible for financial aid.
The Ivy League was the only conference in NCAA’s Division I that cancelled all winter sports this past season. A decision on whether or not competition will take place this spring is expected in the coming weeks.
In mid-January, the Ivy League released a statement delaying a decision on springtime competition, saying that “students should understand that there must be significant changes in the state of the pandemic before competition becomes feasible.” The statement went on to say that if competition were to take place, there would be an “abbreviated” season.
Editor's Note: This story was updated on Feb. 12 to include more information regarding the graduate school application timeline at Princeton.