PSU athletes respond to NCAA decision on eligibility

Following the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s decision on March 30 to grant an additional year of eligibility to spring sport athletes, Vanguard encouraged any student athletes who have been impacted by the NCAA’s cancellations—or the subsequent adjustments to eligibility—to share their thoughts. A number of athletes from various sports reached out with responses. What follows is a Q&A featuring selected responses from student athletes and the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to the NCAA’s decision.


Responses from Student Athletes 


How do you feel about the NCAA’s decision to grant an extra year of eligibility to spring sport athletes only, and not winter or fall sport athletes?


Nina Nikitovic Junior, women’s tennis: Being an athlete that has competition during all three terms, I am personally really happy that I will be able to get one extra year of eligibility. As it comes to winter athletes, I think they should have had a chance to finish their conference championships. Because the NCAA did not grant them an extra year, I think they should at least give them a chance to finish their conference championships. I don’t think fall sports were impacted that much for now, they were not in their season, and they did not miss their competitions. We still don’t know how the situation is going to be in the fall, but if they are not able to compete, I think they should also be granted one extra year of eligibility.


Eszter Zador Senior, women’s tennis: I think it is a great initiation because us seniors worked really hard during the four years of college, and all of us deserve a closure we cannot receive this year, as our season ended very abruptly. 


Kaila Gibson Senior, cross country: As student athletes, we spend all year training and preparing for our championship events. For those who were literally at their championship events and had to come home, it must be absolutely heartbreaking. I am actually grateful my outdoor track season was taken away before it started, because I would have been even more devastated having made it to regionals or nationals to then be told to get on the plane to go home. I am very grateful to be given the option to return for my spring season if I want, but I think the NCAA should have given winter sports their seasons back as well. For those athletes that have dreams of competing after college, it would be like if you were taking a class that was a prerequisite for your future career and you had completed all of the assignments, essays, quizzes [and] presentations, and then showed up for the final only to be told it is canceled and you won’t be receiving a grade in that class. The NCAA made the correct decision to cancel the events and spring season, but this will undoubtedly throw many student athletes into a tailspin. 

What were your feelings when you heard all spring sports for the 2020 season would be canceled?


Gerda Upeniece Junior, women’s tennis: I was devastated and heartbroken. I wish everyone could have seen our team’s growth and hard work this year. I’m only a junior, I have another year to shine. My heart breaks for all the seniors who missed the most significant moments of their seasons and careers.


Sam Roberts Junior, men’s tennis: Obviously very disappointed and sad. However, that being said, I do believe that the correct decision was made was everyone’s health and safety.


Otto Holtari Junior, men’s tennis: Shocked would probably be the best word to describe it. We had just gotten back from Montana the previous weekend, and we were getting ready to play Weber State here at home on Friday. Then suddenly, things started happening so fast that we didn’t really even know what was going to happen. I think it was Thursday evening when we heard the news that the season has been postponed, and will most likely be canceled, and that we would not play our match the next morning. So, in the moment it was all just a big mystery that we were trying to solve and come to terms with, and it really took some time [for us to] realize the season is actually over. I was still supposed to have one more year to play, so I didn’t feel too sad about it, but I really did feel bad for the seniors. 


Tommy Edwards Senior, men’s tennis: At first, I couldn’t believe it. Our whole team had been working so hard for a very long time up [until] the season. Being my senior year, I had very high hopes and expectations for my final year. To see all of this fall apart and be for nothing, it really hurt me. I’ve been playing tennis my whole life, almost 18 years, and this was probably the last chance I would get to play competitive tennis at such a high level. 


How do you feel athletes who are not granted an extra year of eligibility should be compensated for their seasons being cut short?


Upeniece: There are more questions than answers to this situation. But I would be in favor of allowing all those that were seniors that have not had a chance to compete—not given the opportunity to play their spring season…another opportunity to play next year, regardless of what that does to scholarship count. The NCAA should financially support senior student athletes for another year of their careers.


Holtari: For the winter sport athletes whose seasons got cut short at the very end of their seasons, there is really not much that the NCAA could have done for them in my opinion. I don’t think the NCAA or any of the schools would have had enough money to grant an extra year of eligibility for both winter and spring sports. The most fair solution could have been to postpone events like March Madness until they could be played, but then again, I don’t really think we have enough information to truly understand the consequences of those actions either. 


Ruchae Walton Redshirt junior, women’s basketball: I honestly do not think that there is much that can be done in this situation. It is very unfortunate but, in this crisis, hard decisions had to be made. 


Edwards: I think for the athletes who got their seasons cut short, the only thing you can do is to celebrate them and try and honor them in a special way. Their season may have ended poorly but it would be awesome if family, friends and their school made it special for them and find a way to salvage something from the season. 


Jacinta Milenkoski Sophomore, women’s tennis: I think that they should be subsidized for their tuition in some way.


What sort of response have you heard from senior teammates or athletes who would have graduated, but now have the opportunity to return for another year—are any considering returning for a final season?


Upeniece: I know a lot of senior athletes who would definitely take this opportunity and would be ready to come back stronger. There’s no doubt!


Nikitovic: A lot of my friends already have plans for after their graduation. Some got accepted in grad schools, some already got jobs. It is a really difficult decision for them to make. I also heard from my friends that they got offered from their coaches to stay and do grad school as an extra year of eligibility. 


Valerie Hernandez Senior, golf: As a senior, I’m considering staying for another year and hopefully end my season how I really wanted. Now, that decision relies on other situations I can’t control, like scholarship, financial aid, masters or certificates, deadlines, etc. Which I’m not surprised, given the circumstances. With many of my future plans changed, I do want to come back and hopefully have more time to adapt to these changes. Regarding other athletes, some of them are in the same boat as me, but others are not considering coming back because they already applied for graduate school or a job in a company. I believe this decision depends on how big it impacted your plans in the short-term perspective.


Jasmine Cabajar Senior, golf: I am a senior who is about to graduate and I am considering returning for another season, and I know my other senior teammate is considering returning as well. Although, it is up to the financials of our golf program and PSU athletics if we are able to come back. I’ve been at PSU and part of PSU women’s golf for four years now and I don’t want to leave this program like this. I have made a mark in this program and to leave without a strong finish would be heartbreaking.


How has this decision by the NCAA impacted your plans for the future?


Upeniece: For now, the hardest part is that we didn’t have our chance this season to give something in return to the people who supported and rooted for us from the sidelines—all the fans, sponsors, coaches, athletic department friends, family and teammates. I’m very proud of my team this year. I just wish we could have shared our success with all these fantastic people for a little bit longer.


Hernandez: It gave me another perspective of what I can do for the next year. With this, I’m thinking of applying for a masters, which I never had planned for me, or finishing a minor or certificate. It opens many doors, but it also requires a lot of thinking at the end.


Cabajar: I had plans to further with my golf career after graduating, but also with my future occupation as a physical therapist. I wasn’t fully set with all my plans, but I was ready to move on with my life. With another year of eligibility, I am willing to go back for another season, but it won’t be an easy decision due to certain circumstances. After the season being cut short, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to have another go at another season. It would have been upsetting to leave my college golf career so abruptly without finishing out my senior season. I was filled with joy to find out the NCAA’s decision.


Has anyone informed you of how this might have an impact on your financial aid or scholarships were you to return for an additional season?


Roberts: From what I’ve heard, which is very little, the university will honor your scholarship for the fifth year should you decide to take it. 


Gibson: My understanding is that PSU has about 20 student athletes that could return next year, but the athletic department does not have the budget to pay for all of their current scholarships.  So this means everyone that decides to return could now be receiving 0–100% of their scholarship next year. It will be an internal athletic department decision on who and how much each athlete gets.


Windy Huang Junior, golf: Yes. Our athletic director has told us the department might encounter problems getting enough funds, especially for the seniors.


Cabajar: Yes, I was informed that scholarships and financial aid are not guaranteed for this extra year. It is not an easy situation for my coach or within the athletics department. I know PSU athletics and my coach would love to have me and my senior teammate back, but the hardest part is finding the funds for both of us. We have three incoming freshmen for our team so it is a difficult financial situation for my coach to bring us back. However, I do know my coach will do her absolute best to figure something out for me and my teammate financially.


Responses from Financial Aid


How might this affect students’ financial aid packages?


Deanna Smith Associate Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships: Effects on financial aid packages depends on whether students are offered Athletic aid during their additional year of eligibility. Athletic aid is a financial resource and must be counted as part of a student’s aid package. Pell Grant and Oregon Opportunity Grant would not be affected, but eligibility for all other grants, work study and loans potentially would be. 


Brian Janssen Director of Student Organization Advising: I can say the legislation will not impact the financial aid of the general student body, as the legislation is for student athletes only.


For student athletes who decide to return, good questions to ask would be, what types (e.g., loans, grants, scholarships) and amount of financial aid am I eligible for? If I do not receive athletic based aid, how much will it cost me to return for another year? 


Finally, like many PSU students who face this dilemma, I think student athletes need to ask themselves if it is [in their] best financial and personal interest to return to school for another year.