Dear Coach Bryant,
I’ve been reading your blog posts about the impact COVID-19 is having on college athletics. Clearly, this pandemic is shaking up the recruiting world. But I have two kids who are current collegiate athletes and they are wrestling with the idea of staying for a fifth year. Do you have any advice for them about how to decide whether or not they should stay?
Dear Planning Parent,
Being granted a 5th year of eligibility is certainly an opportunity that many student-athletes would love to take advantage of. But there are many things one must consider before making that commitment to stay. Let’s talk through it and see if we can come up with the best plan for your children.
Finances are a major consideration for student-athletes deciding to stay for a 5th year
When deciding whether or not to play a fifth year, perhaps the most pressing question is: can I afford it? Among those student-athletes receiving athletic or academic scholarships, only a small portion receive ”full-rides” (meaning they cover living expenses). Additionally, there is no guarantee that these scholarships will extend to cover a 5th year. Thus, most student-athletes will have to consider all of the costs associated with an additional year of school: tuition, living expenses, and the indirect expense of delaying entry into the workforce. Unfortunately, this becomes a question of privilege, as those who do stay a 5th year may very well just be those who can afford to do so.
Academics are another very important consideration for student-athletes deciding to stay for a 5th year
In order for student-athletes to redeem their 5th year of eligibility, they must remain an active student. However, the definition of “student” differs across divisions and conferences. This is because each division has its own regulations concerning the time allowed to complete your degree, as well as the types of classes you have to be taking to be considered eligible. Student-athletes should speak to their academic advisors to devise a plan that aligns with the regulations set out by their respective divisions.
*Special note for Division III student-athletes: Your 5th year coursework must make progress towards a degree. Current seniors must act NOW to adjust their academic schedules to accommodate that strict requirement.
Roster sizes need to be scrutinized when student-athletes are deciding to stay for a 5th year
As of March 30th, Both Division I & Division II have expanded scholarship sizes and roster maximums for all spring sports for the next year*. Division III never had scholarships or roster maximums to begin with. This means that we may be seeing larger roster sizes across all divisions for at least one year, probably for a full four. This has an impact not only on incoming recruits (see my previous blog post here), but also on current players as they will have to fight for playing time that was previously secured for them.
Division I & II student-athletes can take these steps to plan for staying for a 5th year
- Check with your coach regarding roster size, playing time, and scholarship availability.
- Plan your academics and finances to accommodate that 5th year – whether it includes working towards a second major, a minor, a certification or a graduate degree.
*Special note for Ivy League student-athletes: the Ivy League will not honor the NCAA’s restored eligibility for its spring sport student-athletes. Unfortunately, a 5th year is not an option for you.
Division III Athletes can take these steps to plan for staying a 5th year
- Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors: plan your academics to ensure that you have essential coursework remaining for your 5th year.
- You can also explore the possibility of attending graduate school at your current institution and begin to prepare accordingly.
- Seniors: drop at least one course for your degree requirement RIGHT NOW and save it for spring of your 5th year.
- You can explore options for attending graduate school at your current institution. However, it may be too late as many graduate school deadlines have already passed.
*Keep in mind: All student athletes have the option of completing their 5th year at a different graduate institution. The above advice is for those students seeking to play their 5th year at their current institution.
This is a lot of information, and it can be difficult to sift through as you decide if staying that 5th year would be “worth it”. As a collegiate coach with over 20 years of experience, the best advice I can give you is to extend your time as a college athlete if you have the means and the will to do so. You have the rest of your life to build a career- despite all of the things this pandemic has taken away, it has given you one more year to be a college athlete. If you can manage it financially, it is well worth delaying “real life” for one more year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- this pandemic has changed life as we know it. It only makes sense that our plans change with it, and that we take advantage of any opportunity or good that comes from this otherwise devastating situation.