Comet Athletes Look at Bright Side after Spring Seasons Go Dark
Some Seniors Plan To Use Extra Year of Eligibility after COVID-19 Outbreak
Thursday, March 12, was a surreal day for the Athletics Department at The University of Texas at Dallas. The baseball team was readjusting its schedule after an upcoming opponent canceled a spring break trip to Texas. The men’s tennis team was in the middle of a home match with The Citadel, while the women’s tennis team was preparing to leave on a spring break trip to the East Coast.
Rumors had been circulating for days, but official word finally came that afternoon that the NCAA and the American Southwest Conference were canceling the rest of spring season play and all championships due to safety concerns over the COVID-19 outbreak.
Suddenly, the sports world — including UT Dallas athletics — was stopped in its tracks.
“It was unreal. My immediate thought was about all the missed opportunities,” said UT Dallas tennis coach Bryan Whitt. “I thought both our men and women had a really good shot at winning conference again and hopefully making a deep run in the NCAA tournaments. Then, suddenly, you realize that we had just played our last match of the season.”
Across the nation, student-athletes in spring sports like tennis, baseball, softball and golf were thinking the same thing: Their season — and, for seniors, possibly their entire athletic careers — had seemingly come to an abrupt end.
“The fact that our season might be over took a while to sink in,” said UT Dallas tennis player Kathy Joseph, the team’s top singles player and a biomedical engineering senior. “I couldn’t believe it was real.”
Just as quickly, though, the NCAA made a follow-up announcement that relieved some of the anxiety. The national governing body granted an unprecedented extra year of eligibility to all student-athletes in those spring sports.
“The NCAA said that the 2020 spring seasons were not going to count as a ‘year of participation’ for these student-athletes,” explained Angela Marin, UT Dallas associate athletic director in charge of compliance. “Under normal circumstances, a student-athlete has four years of participation to compete before eligibility expires.”
The waiver meant everyone — especially seniors — had a second chance.
“For me, it was a no-brainer since I was planning to still be here for grad school anyway. I’m so motivated to take that extra time to train, compete with my teammates and represent UTD in the sport I love.”
Ashwin Vaithianathan, a tennis senior who will return for the extra year of eligibility as a graduate student in information technology and management
“I felt the decision was justified,” Whitt said. “The season was cut short for these kids through no fault of their own. And, it was across the board. Every school is dealing with the same situation.”
Ashwin Vaithianathan, a tennis senior who will return for the extra year of eligibility as a graduate student in information technology and management, agreed it was the right decision. “For me, it was a no-brainer since I was planning to still be here for grad school anyway. I’m so motivated to take that extra time to train, compete with my teammates and represent UTD in the sport I love.”
Several UT Dallas seniors indicated they plan to return to the University for another season as graduate students, but not all of them.
“My first thought was for all those seniors who are not going to be able to take advantage,” said golfer Marissa Langer, a senior who plans to finish her master’s degree in accounting while playing another year. “Their decision is not as easy as mine.”
Tennis player Giovanni Zamboni, a finance junior, is a prime example. “I was planning to graduate in December,” said Zamboni, who was closing in on a school record for victories before the season was shut down. “I can play in the fall, but then I’ll be done. I can’t afford to stay around another semester after that. I will never get back my senior tennis season, and that’s what hurts.”
But across the country, it’s not just student-athletes who are having to adjust their plans.
“There will be challenges for all schools — large and small,” said Bill Petitt, UT Dallas director of athletics. “Many college athletics departments — in all divisions — are having to rethink the way they do business, whether it’s a reduction in sports or budget cuts. No one is really sure what life after COVID-19 is going to look like.
“At UTD, though, we are in good shape and look at this as an opportunity to improve. We are moving forward with the intent of competing in 17 sports this fall and planning exciting, new ways to deliver our sports to the UTD community. The NCAA will give us guidance on when we can return to play and how it will look.”
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].