For Bradley University senior McKenzie Altmayer and some of her mates, this season has turned into a nightmare
It's a very eerie and indescribable
feeling to have a dream not only go unrealized but become unable to be
realized. I've had numerous goals that have gone unachieved; that's the nature
of the sport, but I had never been forced to lose hope for any of them. In high school, I wanted to win a state title. I
never did, but I was able to transfer that lofty dream into something greater
that could happen in college...
Because there was always another starting line...
But for many of my peers, the opportunity to race again was taken away yesterday by the NCAA.
I understand the calamity and the magnitude of COVID-19, and it's not my intention to undermine it. But it has been one of my life's greatest privileges to care about running as much as I do, and I know many of my peers second this opinion. That being said, running and competing is a major aspect of many athletes' identities in college, and that's okay. We put so much love and effort into our sports that we should be allowed to hurt as much as we are right now after hearing that we will no longer have an opportunity to compete. So while I understand the rationale behind the NCAA's decision, I'm going to allow myself to grieve.
I started the year with massive goals for outdoor track. While I always gave my full attention to the season I was in (cross country and indoor track), my coach and I both knew that outdoor track was where I was going to have the most national-level success.
Last year at Drake Relays I ran a 10:31 3000m steeplechase. This was a school record and good enough to take third in the race. But as soon as I crossed the finish line and saw the time, I had a bad feeling that I was going to be just shy of making the NCAA West Regional. For Division 1, there are two Regionals (east and west) and each allows 48 competitors per event to come to compete for a spot at Nationals. Based on past years, athletes and coaches can relatively guess the average time that will make the meet, so my coaches and I knew that my time would put me on the bubble. Sure enough, I was less than a second away from making the meet: four spots out.
Ever since finding out that I was just barely out of qualifying, it's been my goal to earn my spot on the starting line and then find success while there. We've been practicing steeple technique for months and I've been working on my anxiety surrounding the water barrier for over a year. But now I won't have an opportunity to showcase all my hard work.
I've agonized over a second of time on a clock for a year, and now I have to wait another full year in order to chase that goal again. But I'm one of the lucky ones.
Even though I'm a senior, I still have a full year of redshirted eligibility that I planned to use while getting my masters. But many of my peers and friends didn't account for this season to be canceled, or now for the NCAA to give eligibility back. Many people in my class already have jobs or new homes lined up for when they graduate college. But all of them had looked forward to experiencing and enjoying their last opportunities to compete at the collegiate level. And now things have become more complicated.
Because the NCAA just granted eligibility back to spring sports, many current seniors will have decisions to make. But the NCAA and individual universities will now have to negotiate many new problems and change a lot of rules in order to accommodate this decision (which I fully support by the way).
Many seniors I know have already applied and been accepted to graduate programs at other schools because they didn't previously have eligibility lined up. So they now lose the opportunity to compete at the school they currently attend and would have competed for this spring season. Many of these same student-athletes are enrolling in medical school or physical therapy school, which forbid (unless special permission is granted) their students to keep competing collegiately. And seniors, who hadn't planned to continue education, and instead move into the real world, now have to decide if they want to pursue a job or more collegiate athletic endeavors, which could cost them more money than they didn't account for.
Some of the biggest issues I've thought of that face individual schools and the NCAA are scholarships and roster spots. Teams have already signed a number of incomers, and have planned to reallocate the scholarships that their graduating seniors are currently on. Because eligibility has been given back, and if seniors choose to stay, universities will now have to find new ways to spread the money. The other issue is that teams are only allowed a certain number of athletes. This obviously becomes problematic when athletes choose to remain at their school, but their spot on the roster had already been given up to a freshman. Many NCAA rules will have to change in order for more eligibility to be fully possible.
Another barrier between seniors taking the extra eligibility is the issue of education. Many graduate school programs have already closed their application deadline, so even if an athlete wanted to stay, they wouldn't have an opportunity to receive an education. Individual universities and their athletic programs would have to make accommodations for new late applications coming in from athletes who wish to keep pursuing their sport. And this causes more financial issues for schools in terms of allotting academic scholarship as well as possibly having a larger student body than previously expected.
I'm still heartbroken about the decision made by the NCAA regarding this spring season, but granting more eligibility does take the sting off just a little.
The NCAA made the decision to cancel the spring and remaining indoor seasons in the best interest of the general public, and I'm so happy that they now acted in the best interest of its athletes-the people who have invested time and money into making our sports great. I'll keep training through this hard time, because above all, I love running not just for competing. But I am eager to see how things within my sport and the NCAA continue to unfold.