Eligibility questions abundant for college athletes

  • Glenbard East graduate Michael Sebby, a senior pitcher at Illinois State, had his future plans put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Glenbard East graduate Michael Sebby, a senior pitcher at Illinois State, had his future plans put on hold by the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO COURTESY OF RYAN HENRY

  • University of Illinois-Chicago softball player Kayla Wedl of Wauconda isn't sure what her future holds after her senior season was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    University of Illinois-Chicago softball player Kayla Wedl of Wauconda isn't sure what her future holds after her senior season was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE WOLTMANN

  • Kayla Wedl is the reigning Horizon League softball player of the year.

    Kayla Wedl is the reigning Horizon League softball player of the year. PHOTO COURTESY OF STEVE WOLTMANN

 
 
Updated 3/21/2020 1:21 PM

What a short, strange trip it's been.

On March 12, Illinois State senior pitcher Michael Sebby was featured in the Missouri Valley Conference's Scholar-Athlete Spotlight, and on a bus from Tallahassee to Jacksonville for three baseball games against North Florida to end a 19-game road trip to start the season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That trip halted by the COVID-19 pandemic, in the space of three days the 6-foot-1 left-hander went from facing a Florida State batter to pulling back into ISU's Normal campus and hearing that everything had been canceled -- baseball season, College World Series, campus life.

By March 15, Sebby, a Glenbard East product, was back home with his folks in Lombard. There he was, Illinois State's 2019 Doug Collins Male Student-Athlete of the Year, throwing into a net in the backyard.

"I still have to work out because I don't want to shut everything down and then not be able to play, because I still want to play," said Sebby, a biological sciences major who graduated in December with a 3.83 grade-point average.

He'll have that option.

On March 13, due to the pandemic, the NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee granted eligibility relief for all students who participated in spring sports.

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The NCAA Division II and Division III administrative committees followed suit as did the NAIA on March 16, when it canceled its 2020 spring sports.

The NAIA statement noted any full-time spring sport student-athlete "will be awarded two additional semester terms of attendance or the equivalent."

Also on March 16, while announcing its spring competition would be canceled, the NJCAA said no 2020 spring-sport student-athlete will be charged a year of participation.

Gap year

Sebby, who graduated early to avoid a conflict between a baseball road trip and commencement, actually is in a decent position to play another year of college ball. He'd planned on a "gap year" before attending medical school.

"I would definitely take that opportunity," said Sebby, the 2016 Daily Herald DuPage County All-Area Baseball captain.

"I'd love to," he said. "It just doesn't feel right having your senior season taken away. But we really have to just play it by ear. There's so many factors that have to be taken into account."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

They include things the governing bodies have yet to determine. Questions about scholarship monies, about roster sizes with an incoming freshman class. What of relief for winter athletes whose tournaments got canceled?

College administrators, coaches and athletes remain glued to Twitter feeds such as @NCAA, @InsidetheNCAA and the newly created hashtag #UnitedAsOne for information that can come at any moment.

"Us athletes, we get updated literally by Twitter," Sebby said.

Such as Thursday's announcement from the Division II Administrative Committee. It included the nugget that extension of eligibility waivers "apply only to student-athletes who would have exhausted their athletics eligibility after the spring 2020 term ..."

And Friday's release that among other actions the Division I Council on March 30 will vote on "eligibility relief for student-athletes whose seasons were impacted by COVID-19 and other related issues..." That possibly opens the door for winter athletes.

In a bind

So many questions for someone like University of Illinois-Chicago senior shortstop Kayla Wedl.

A Wauconda graduate set to graduate May 7 with a degree in kinesiology -- the ceremony has been canceled -- the reigning Horizon League softball player of the year is trying to assess future moves based on moving targets.

"My original plan was to go to nursing school right out of college starting in the fall," said Wedl, a Daily Herald Lake County All-Area Softball captain for both 2015 and 2016, as a pitcher.

"But my coach (Lynn Curylo) also brought up professional softball and asked if I was interested," Wedl said. "I said of course, but I didn't know if it was possible, especially coming from a mid-major, so that was kind of up in the air. Both of them were up in the air. Now this happened, so I'm trying to come back for a fifth year."

For Wedl, if it isn't College of Lake County nursing school it'll be graduate studies at UIC, but she and her athletic peers find themselves in Catch-22 mode.

"Right now it's so confusing because there are so many questions that can't be answered yet," she said.

Division III athletes, ineligible for athletic scholarships though other aid and grants may be available, must make tough decisions.

Neuqua Valley graduate Dominic Dina, a senior distance runner for North Central College in Naperville, isn't as distressed by these developments, though certainly sympathetic. He's on the shelf with a hip injury, and he's well-positioned going forward.

"I probably wouldn't have returned because I have a job lined up. It's one of those things that kind of fell into place. Also, it'd be difficult to find new curriculum for an additional year," he said.

"There's little incentive to come back for a fifth year. I'm not going to and a lot of my friends are not going to because the price is so much."

For Wedl, the price not to return is too high.

"I can't end my career on a hit-by-pitch," she said.

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