RYAN REEBENACKER, KNIGHT WIRE CO-MANAGER
Athletes at Wartburg College have begun to consider a fifth year of eligibility with COVID-19 influencing the American Rivers Conference (A-R-C) to postpone or shorten many sports seasons.
While some athletes would consider a fifth-year regardless of the cost, others have seen the option become more attractive due to an email announcement from Wartburg College announcing a tuition-free fifth-year option. The message from Wartburg College President Darrel Colson, sent out to Wartburg students on July 27, said, “We will offer every student who enrolls full-time in both the Fall and the Winter/May terms of this year (2020-21) the opportunity to return to the college for a fifth year without paying tuition.”
This option extends to all students, but athletes in particular have found the option tempting with many of them being granted an extra season of eligibility from the NCAA, either due to their seasons being cancelled or shortened to a length that it no longer takes up a year of eligibility. Athletes given additional eligibility include those involved in last year’s spring sports of baseball, softball, women’s tennis and lacrosse, as well as this year’s football, volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s cross country teams.
“Oh yeah,” JoJo McNair, all-conference baseball and football player, said when asked if he would return for a tuition-free fifth-year. “I’m probably going to do it. [The tuition-free option is] a big factor.”
Rick Willis, head football coach and Wartburg athletic director, has been a leading voice in the A-R-C’s conversations surrounding shortened and delayed seasons, including those of football, cross country, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer.
“In reconstructing the schedules for some of these postponed fall sports (football, volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer),” Willis said, “the conference made a decision to shorten the season to less than half the amount of contests played so as to allow players to compete without using a year of eligibility in that sport.”
From a coaching perspective, Willis said he has seen “considerable” interest from his athletes in terms of a fifth-year option made more attainable by the tuition-free option.
Men’s and women’s cross country have also shortened their seasons to avoid eligibility concerns, though senior two-time All-American Carina Collet has decided to waive the additional eligibility to pursue graduate school.
“Before Wartburg released their plan for a tuition-free fifth year, I know a lot of our seniors were considering doing a gap year,” Collet said. “I think the tuition-free fifth year is changing that for a lot of people, with them saying ‘OK, I’ll just do a fifth year then.’”