Administrative Executive Editor
In late March of 2020, the NCAA put out an announcement that the Division I Council extended eligibility for spring-sport student-athletes impacted by COVID-19. As the pandemic continued, the Division I Council extended the eligibility for fall-sport and winter-sport student-athletes as well.
Keene State College Assistant Athletic Director Abe Osheyack said through an email that there are two students currently using an NCAA COVID waiver. He added, “Many others are considering next year but I am not aware of decisions being made.”
Director of Athletics and Recreation Philip Racicot explained, “Spring student-athletes last year didn’t get to finish the season. The fall [student-athletes] this past fall didn’t get to start a season. And then the winter sports were really interesting because they may have finished the season last winter, but they didn’t get a postseason. And this season was pretty abbreviated. Yeah we had basketball, and we were the only Division III conference in New England to play the sport of basketball as a conference this winter, but we had a 10 game season, whereas, normally you’re playing almost 30 games.”
Racicot said that the pandemic took away opportunities from the student-athletes. He elaborated, “As an athlete, you have a really finite number of opportunities when you think about and for, 98% of all college athletes …this is the end of your athletic career. And so those are really valuable opportunities that when you’re missing large pieces and chunks of them.” Racicot said that the opportunities can be preserved by “grant[ing], essentially, an extra semester or year of eligibility for everyone to get a full career if they chose to do that.”
Joshua DeFrancisco is one of the Keene State College student-athletes using the extra year of eligibility. DeFrancisco, center fielder on the baseball team, was a senior last year and was majoring in business management. He added two minors in his degree to continue playing on the baseball team. He said, “We didn’t really get far into the season. We played 10 games together on the year back so I didn’t really want to end my career only on 10 games, especially on a 1-9 record, so I decided that I was gonna come back, pick up a couple minors to add to my degree. I feel like it’d be beneficial anyway, and I get to play ball and do that too.” DeFrancisco added an economics minor last fall and has added a marketing minor recently.
Raciot said, “It’s a decision that students and families have to make…as to what’s the most important path for them.”
DeFrancisco made his own decision after talking to his coach and his father. He said, “It was solely on me. I did talk to my coach about asking if it was possible, like if I can come back without having to do a grad[uate] program because that’s not something I really want to do, I rather just pick up the minors like what I did now or get another major. He said it was possible. and then I talked to my dad about it and my dad was all on board because like I said my senior season got taken away and he wanted to watch me, so he was all [in].”
Describing the process he said, “The only thing I just had a little difficulty with was financial aid just because I was a fifth-year student, but other than that, the paperwork was pretty simple. I just talked to my advisors and they kind of like handled everything for me.”
The other student who used the eligibility year is Nicole De Almeida from the track and field team. De Almeida graduated last year with a degree in secondary education and mathematics. She is now in the new teachers as leaders graduate master’s program.
De Almeida said that she had been planning to do her masters at Keene State since she started here. She added, “It kind of just worked out that I ended up getting to use some eligibility this year. Like, originally, I was just planning to have this year off, I wouldn’t have done any sports. It kind of worked out.”
De Almeida shared that the COVID-restricted sport is interesting. She said, “It was interesting how our first meet [went] where just like everyone has to wear masks while warming up, like walking around and doing everything. And then you can only take it off, like as soon as you get to the starting line. And then you have to put it back on as close to as when you finish as possible, they’re a little lenient when you finish a race and you’re trying to catch your breath. So it’s definitely interesting getting back into that kind of routine of figuring out.”
Racicot said that if students-athletes have played this year (2021), no matter what year they are, they will have gained an extra year of eligibility. He said, “Another way to look at it is, instead of gaining a year, you didn’t lose a year. So, this year, it just basically doesn’t count, within your eligibility clock. So, if you’re a freshman this year, you’ll still have the opportunity to do another four years of eligibility, beyond this year.”
In order to qualify for the eligibility, the student must be enrolled in Keene State College either as an undergraduate or a graduate student. “There has been some discussion about allowing students, maybe to compete while they’re not a student …but I don’t know that that’s going to go anywhere… It’s really the antithesis of being a student-athlete. So there’s been some discussion about that within the membership and the legislative effect of the NCAA but nothing’s been done to that effect yet,” said Racicot.
The extra year of eligibility doesn’t only provide opportunity for the students but also benefits the college. Racicot explained, “From the college standpoint, anytime that we can retain students, or, attract them to stay for even longer on campus then they’re intended, that benefits everyone.” He added, “Athletically, it helps us become a more competitive program… [the coaches will] really very much like for our students to be able to stick around and contribute.”
DeFrancisco said that he is more than happy about his decision. He said, “I think it was a good decision for the team….we lost 13 guys, including myself, but I decided to come back and I knew we were gonna have a young team so I felt like they needed someone there to you know, look up to and be a leader and I feel like I’ve done that role pretty well.”
Racicot thinks it’s a great opportunity for student-athletes. He said, “It does hopefully make up for the sense of loss that they’ve had as they pursue their passion.”
Puja Thapa can be contacted at: