An extra year of eligibility might have set graduating athletes’ career prospects back. Instead, it may give them a leg-up.
March 13, 2020, was a busy day in McCann Arena at Marist College. There was a chilling silence, yet quick footsteps and muffled voices could be heard from several rooms and hallways. The NCAA canceled spring sports and for the seniors, their last year and season flashed before their eyes. It was there, and then nothing.
Marist softball outfielder Ali Milam was packed and on her way to take a bus to the airport to fly off to Florida with her team for spring break. Suddenly, she was not boarding the bus, but waiting in the Hall of Fame room for a spontaneous team meeting to begin.
Sitting across the hall and a little way down was Marist men’s lacrosse midfielder Jon Constant, in the locker room with his teammates hearing the season update. Devastated, all he could think of was the lost opportunity to play for a MAAC Championship. In a separate locker room, Samantha Mehalick, a Marist women’s lacrosse attacker, was victim to another surprise meeting.
“We were all just at a loss for words,” said Mehalick. “We just sat in the locker room in silence. We were just like, “‘What do we do now?”
After the cancelation of the spring sports seasons, the NCAA offered all seniors in the class of 2020 an extra year of eligibility. An extra year of one thing that they have come to always count on. How could they pass that up?
The Class of 2020 began their senior year at a record-low national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent. In an April 2020 survey conducted by Student Loan Hero, 72 percent of graduating seniors reported that the Covid-19 crisis had already impacted their post-graduation plans, along with 28 percent of students saying they’re changing their career path due to the pandemic.
At the time, Milam, Constant, and Mehalick did not have post-graduation plans set in stone. After consulting with teammates, family, and coaches, they all decided to take the extra year of eligibility. All three athletes see this added time as an advantage, not a decision that will set them back from other graduates.
Twenty-five percent of the 2020 women’s lacrosse seniors decided to return in 2021. The men’s lacrosse team and the softball team resulted in 55 percent and 25 percent returns, respectively. There were several factors that led to these numbers, as Director of Student-Athlete Enhancement Alyssa Gates has observed.
A handful of student athletes in the spring of 2020 jumped on the opportunity immediately to be able to come back for another year and play. However, she explained, several changed their minds as they could see the reality of the pandemic, especially at the cancelation of fall sports.
There are a limited number of graduate programs at Marist as well, and these did not fit many of the graduates’ plans. Those that were interested in a Marist graduate program, had to have some difficult conversations in regards to money and debated getting a degree they might not need to play sports again.
“What can we do to keep them here, and extend their academic career while also extending their athletic career?” asked Gates. “And most of our student athletes are not getting huge scholarships so it wasn’t like they were going to have that stuff be fully funded.”
For Constant, it was a move that worked perfectly into his schedule. He has a bachelor’s of science in business administration, specifically accounting and finance. He needed 30 more credits to be eligible for the CPA exam. This is taken by those who wish to become U.S. Certified Public Accountants. Constant will be finishing the credits this summer and then will be set to take the exam.
“It gave me more time to get another diploma, which is really important in today’s world because people with more education are likely to get a job over people who just have an undergraduate degree,” said Constant.
Constant interned over the summer with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and will start as an audit associate in the fall of 2021. An extra year would have never even been a possibility for him outside of these circumstances, as he was never injured and played his freshman year. This added year is continuing to work in Constant’s favor and lacrosse has just begun.
Milam’s first reaction was an immediate and panicked, no. “I was like, ‘[coach] Joe [Ausanio], I can’t go to grad school, like, I got through my senior year. I don’t think I could do this again.’”
Milam connected her bachelor’s degree in graphic design to the Marist Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) Master’s program. Likewise, Mehalick has a bachelor’s degree in business administration, specifically marketing, and decided to take a chance on going for her master’s in finance.
After their spring seasons, Mehalick and Milam have plans in place, working as interns that will hopefully lead to a job. Mehalick will be with BNY Mellon this summer as a financial summer analyst, while Milam is having a position created for her at Liason International as the junior graphic designer.
“When I am looking for full-time positions, hopefully, most of this is, coronavirus-wise, we’re, like, a little bit past it,” said Mehalick. “Time here is huge, and for me personally, I’m very lucky and happy that I did have the opportunity to take some time.”
For January, the unemployment rate is 11.2 percent for all people in the United States ages 15 to 24 years old, which is certainly an improvement from April. This is what the athletes were hoping for–a better job market to go into than when they would have in the spring of last year.
The extra time has helped the athletes enhance their education while also extending their athletic careers. They each have as stable of a plan as they can have during this pandemic, however, as time has proved to be helpful, it will also be the telling factor of how all things will play out.
Edited by Mackenzie Meaney and Nick Stanziale
Photo from Riley Griffin