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Ivy League Will Not Allow Athletes to Compete as Grad Students Despite Shortened Spring Season

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

The Ivy League will not change its policies to allow graduate students to compete in varsity athletics despite the spring athletic season being cut short due to coronavirus, the athletic conference ruled Thursday afternoon.

The decision comes following the National Collegiate Athletics Association’s Monday decision to restore one season of competition for athletes whose seasons were shortened.

Per the Ivy League’s ruling, Harvard spring season athletes who were eligible during the 2020 season would have to transfer to another university to use their additional year of eligibility, according to League spokesperson Matthew J. Panto.

As coronavirus concerns grew throughout March, the NCAA and its members took a series of steps to cancel all athletics, including winter sports championships and the remainder of the spring sports season. On Monday, the NCAA officially adopted its earlier statement that an additional year of eligibility would be “appropriate” for spring athletes. The association's policy gave schools autonomy to decide what form of relief the eligibility would take.

Panto explained the Ivy League’s decision on Thursday in an emailed statement.

“After a number of discussions surrounding the current circumstances, the Ivy League has decided the League's existing eligibility policies will remain in place, including its longstanding practice that athletic opportunities are for undergraduates,” he wrote.

Ivy League rules differ from other Division I schools on the issue of eligibility. NCAA policies state Division I athletes may compete in four seasons within the span of five years, opening the door for some graduate students to compete.

In contrast, Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League limit student-athletes to four seasons of competition within four years of undergraduate matriculation, except in certain cases of medical hardship, according to the Harvard student athlete handbook.

As a result, Harvard athletes will not be able to use their eligibility relief at Harvard, though athletes at Division I schools outside the Ivy League may use their extra year of competition at their current school.

Harvard Athletics spokesperson Timothy J. Williamson said the department did not have any additional comment.

Harvard baseball player Grant H. Stone ’20 said he was not surprised by the league’s decision.

“We weren't really expecting to have that opportunity,” he said. “I'm sure that we were all hoping for them to roll out the red carpet for us, but obviously, there was a very low chance of that happening.”

Stone, who was benched by shoulder injuries while on the team, said he entered his name into a database for transfer student-athletes and hopes to play baseball at another school while earning a graduate degree.

“I am not ready for my baseball career to be over yet. I personally feel like I have a lot more to give baseball wise,” he said. “I'm a guy who’s been injured on and off for the better part of my college career.”

Stone said he hopes that, by this time next year, he will be playing baseball and pursuing a graduate degree at an academically rigorous and athletically competitive university.

“That’s a perfect world for me, but there’s still a lot to be figured out,” he said.

Stone’s teammate, Kieran K. Shaw ’20, who also wants to take advantage of his eligibility relief, said he is exploring where he can play baseball next year. Though regular application deadlines for most graduate schools have passed, Shaw said he is confident he can find a school for the 2020-2021 academic year.

“All the schools that I've talked to thus far, they haven't expressed that I would not be able to attend the university because I missed the deadline,” he said.

Shaw, who had previously waffled between using his additional year or entering the draft for Major League Baseball, said he is excited to continue his collegiate baseball career.

“I think it's amazing that the NCAA came out with the official vote saying that every spring sport athlete deserves another year of eligibility. I think that's really doing right by the student athletes,” he said.

Harvard baseball player Chad N. Minato ’20, who learned about the Ivy League’s decision over social media, said he is waiting to hear from Harvard, who has been silent on the issue.

“We can't know if the decision at this point is finalized. The only thing is if it was finalized, then we would have liked to have heard directly from them,” he said. “But I mean I trust that if we haven't heard directly from them then there are definitely details I think that are still being worked on.”

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

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