Unlike some of our peer institutions, athletics at Cornell are not always seen by students, administrators and alumni as the University’s top priority. Still, for many, collegiate athletics play a transformative role in shaping an undergraduate experience. To delineate the balance between academics and athletics, the Ivy League created a code outlining the rules for athletic eligibility at each college. This policy allows students to compete for four seasons in a given sport, but only during their first eight semesters of education. Additionally, students who have completed their undergraduate degrees on time or early become ineligible to continue playing for their respective teams, even if they choose to attend graduate school at the same institution.
These policies, although well-intentioned, are antiquated and enforced unequally with no clear outcome as to how an appeals process will end. Now is the time for the Ivy League schools to reconsider the policy in favor of system that gives athletes the ability to make choices they have come to expect at an institution of higher education in the 21st century. Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association places a four-season limit on student athletes, with the Ivy League being the only collection of schools in the country that would ban a student athlete from completing all four seasons of eligible play if he or she has completed an undergraduate degree.
This policy is often enforced sporadically across the league. Students involved in the 2012 Harvard cheating scandal maintained a year of academic eligibility by taking a leave of absence before the first game of the season, an obvious loophole in this policy. Other students, including Cornellians, have not fared as well with regards to athletic eligibility. For instance, Errick Peck ’13, a student in the School of Hotel Administration who was injured at the tail-end of his sophomore year, petitioned for a waiver for a fifth year of Ivy athletic eligibility, or his fourth season on the team. Unfortunately for Peck, the school denied his petition and he was left to find a new school to compete at in only two months. Similar stories are not uncommon throughout Cornell and the Ivy League, as highlighted in a Sun investigative report Wednesday. All of this makes one point clear: The vague implications and restrictions of the waiver process push student athletes to jeopardize their eligibility if they cannot compete in all four seasons as undergraduates.
By forcing a student to choose between his or her alma mater or athletics in these situations, the Ivy League is pushing many into uncomfortable situations. These students, essentially driven out of the Ivy League, often make the decision to leave the college where they spent years developing friendships and becoming a part of a community on their respective campuses. No student should be compelled to leave his or her school because of a desire to participate fully in all four years of athletic eligibility.
We urge Cornell and the administration to take the lead among the Ivies in addressing the problems surrounding athletic eligibility. While athletics may not be the University’s top priority, enhancing the student experience and curbing nonsensical policies must be prioritized by Day Hall. Rewriting athletic eligibility clearly falls under this concern.