Bronco SportsSports & Rec

College athletes face both opportunities and challenges with NCAA’s additional year of eligibility

Photo by Mackenzie Hudson

College athletics has changed tremendously over the past two years as a result of COVID. With many sports’ seasons cut short or canceled altogether, the NCAA came up with a solution to provide all college athletes who competed in all or a portion of the 2020-21 season an extra year of eligibility. Therefore the 2020-21 season would not be counted against an athlete’s years of eligibility. 

Typically, a college athlete can compete in their sport for four years, but serve five years on the team. However this additional year has given athletes the opportunity to play another season and finish out their college careers. 

It has also given athletes additional time to spread out their degree or even gain a master’s degree. 

Boise State gymnastics team, Maddi Nilson
[Photo of Maddi Nilson competing for Boise State gymnastics in 2019.]
Photo by Mackenzie Hudson | The Arbiter

On the other hand, athletes deciding to use their extra year of eligibility does not mean they are guaranteed a full scholarship or the ability to compete. 

“The scholarship limit is the same but then the pool of potential athletes that can benefit from those scholarships has increased,” said Associate Athletic Director of Compliance Nathan Burk. “So you’re seeing that a lot of student athletes that have gone to junior colleges or come out as freshmen aren’t having the same number of opportunities because of that.”

The NCAA providing an additional year to student-athletes has also impacted roster spots and even playing time. 

“Do you bring in a freshman or do you try to bring a senior back for an additional year? Some coaches are having to face that decision,” Burk said. 

A few Boise State Athletes have even chosen to enter the transfer portal with one season of eligibility left. 

Senior running back Andrew Van Buren announced he was leaving Boise State football and entering the transfer portal in December 2021. 

Redshirt senior guard Emmanuel Akot announced in April 2022 that he is leaving Boise State men’s basketball and declaring for the NBA draft. However he plans to maintain his college eligibility and enters the transfer portal to “explore his options” if he is not drafted. 

Every college athlete’s journey looks different. Some athletes at Boise State chose to use all four years and graduate, but others decided to use their additional years to their advantage. 

Sixth year Maddi Nilson is a member of the Boise State gymnastics team. The Las Vegas native committed to Boise State as a walk-on the summer before her senior year of high school. 

During her freshman season, Nilson competed in three meets on bars for the Broncos. Entering her sophomore season, she competed in her first meet before suffering an injury and choosing to redshirt for the remainder of the season. 

Nilson eventually recovered and returned for her third season where she made 10 appearances for the Broncos, competing nine times on floor and eight times on both bars and vault. After the 2019 season, Nilson received a full scholarship for her athletic and academic achievements. 

For her next two seasons, Nilson proved to be very successful competing in all 19 meets, while earning multiple accolades.

Before entering her senior season, Nilson remembers watching an Alabama gymnastics meet where they announced athletes competing in the 2020-21 year would receive an additional year of eligibility. The following day she talked to her coaches and decided to return for the 2022 season which would serve as her final year of eligibility. 

Nilson said the process for deciding to use that year was pretty smooth. She graduated in the spring of 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med with a biology minor and Spanish certificate. Since Nilson already received her degree, she decided to start another Bachelor’s degree in psychology to remain academically eligible to compete. 

“I was able to spread out both of my majors and minor,” Nilson said. “Actually spreading out my classes into five years is what allowed me to take my Spanish classes. Which is really neat, it allowed me to branch out into a different area of education.”

Recently, Nilson has been applying to different medical schools in hopes of becoming a pediatric surgeon but is open to other specialties within the medical field. 

“I think last year was one of my best years gymnastically and athletically,” Nilson said. “This year was kind of tough for gymnastics but it taught me a lot in terms of personal growth and also how to be a good leader. There’s been lots of other things that I’ve gotten out of this year besides gymnastics which has been really cool.”

Nilson wrapped up her final season by competing in all 10 meets, 10 times on bars and nine times on vault. She tied her career high on vault with a 9.850 and tied her career high twice on bars with a 9.900. 

“At the time when COVID happened it seemed like an absolute disaster and the worst possible outcome, but then I ended up getting a whole extra year at the sport that I love,” Nilson said. “The negative outcomes aren’t always what they seem, so there’s always something positive that can come out of a bad situation.”

Although COVID impacted college athletics in different ways, many student athletes were able to utilize the opportunity to grow academically and athletically. 

Since the additional year of eligibility only applies to a select group of athletes, the issues faced with roster spots, scholarships and the transfer portal will diminish in the coming years. As seniors, redshirt seniors, fifth years and sixth years graduate and move on from college athletics, younger athletes will begin to receive more opportunities on their teams.

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