Liam Hare had an experience this spring that was right out of the coronavirus impact playbook. The St. Joseph’s senior lacrosse player already had started his last season, full of promise. The Hawks were getting ready to get on a bus to go up to Rhode Island to play Bryant College. Their coach got a call. That bus wasn’t leaving. Game canceled.
By that night, Hare had gotten an email, season canceled. Players gathered in an apartment. One senior said, “I don’t think I’m ever going to get over this.”
Then this little asterisk appeared in their lives. The NCAA voted to allow schools to bring seniors back for another season. St. Joe’s told its athletes they could come back. Hare and a number of his senior lacrosse teammates are coming back.
“We’d love to have you back," Hare, a Spring-Ford High graduate from Phoenixville, a Hawks captain this spring, said he was told by his coach, Taylor Wray. “We’d love nothing more than having as many seniors back as we can. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I simply don’t know how much money we’re going to be able to give you.”
The good news on that front came later. Hare was going to get his scholarship money. As official policy, St. Joe’s is giving a “similar athletics aid package to that which was received in 2019-20.”
“For me personally, it was just a sigh of relief," said Hare, who will pursue a masters’ degree in health administration. “For me to end a nearly 15-year lacrosse career that way would have been so tough. Hearing the school was going to support me was pretty astounding.”
While the tally at St. Joe’s was “a bit fluid," at the moment the school is expected to have 30 of 81 potential seniors returning.
“The class of 2020 is full of exceptional men and women, many of whom will now take advantage of the opportunity to chase their dreams and have appropriate closure to their athletic careers," said St. Joe’s athletic director Jill Bodensteiner. "I’m also very excited to have outstanding student leadership to help guide us through what will be an unusual year in higher education.”
This isn’t just a Division I issue. The decision to allow each school to bring seniors back next year was offered at all divisions. At D-II West Chester, where most athletic scholarships are partial, the waiver was offered to any seniors who want to return, but the school is leaving it to coaches to fit it into their existing budgets.
At Rowan, part of Division III where there are no athletic scholarships, the school also was allowing any spring-sport athletes to return next year.
At the scholarship level, there are all sorts of wrinkles, policies varying school to school. Wisconsin, for instance, announced it wouldn’t allow spring-sports athletes to return and play next year.
“Some schools I’m pretty sure are telling their freshman, I don’t have any money for you your first year,” said one local administrator.
At Temple, according to a current count, 17 of 37 spring student-athletes on athletic scholarship are returning. “We are able to encompass their scholarship dollars under our existing scholarship budget," said Temple spokesman Larry Dougherty.
Penn is in a little different position since the Ivy League decided not to grant waivers allowing graduate students to participate as post-grads. (Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun said Penn had voted in favor of allowing such a waiver.) What that means is that a Penn senior this spring would have had to not graduate in order to be eligible to participate next spring. At least a few are expected to do that, but Penn said all waivers requests aren’t in yet.
Villanova issued the following statement: “Villanova has done its best to work within our existing budgets to try and bring everyone back. Some student-athletes and coaches are still in the decision-making process as the semester comes to a close, but we do already have senior student-athletes who have decided to return. We hope to have rosters and budgets confirmed for the 2020-21 season in the coming weeks.”
At Drexel, the school offered this statement from athletic director Eric Zillmer that had gone out to the campus community. Part of it read, “Especially during this public health crisis it is important for student-athletes to have something to look forward to. … at Drexel Athletics we will commit to working with all those spring sport student-athletes to make this opportunity a reality by providing options for a possible return next year. Academically, we are expecting a number of them to return either as graduate students or as undergraduates, who are already in the five-year cycle we have at Drexel. Athletically, our coaches and our athletic administration are working creatively through the opportunities for all of those student-athletes to participate in the year that was lost this spring.”
La Salle noted it had a small number of seniors expected to return, “and we are going to be able to use our existing resources to pay for them," said athletic department spokesman Dan Lobacz.
One local administrator pointed out that it will be interesting to do a count in September and see how many returned. “I think the number may fluctuate all summer due to full-time job opportunities that may or may not exist," the administrator said.
At St. Joe’s, Hare noted that six seniors were on the Hawks lacrosse team, and four are planning to come back. Hare didn’t have a job lined up – the interview process was just starting for him when the world shut down – so this opportunity to come back is a real help to him.
Hare noted that while college seniors are impacted, “high school seniors are really going to get the worst of it,” in that they already lost their last high school season, and now many will show up to college with four classes ahead of them on the team, playing time tougher to come by than ever.