Boris Tsang / Sun Photography Editor

The Ivy League's ruling that graduate students would remain ineligible for the spring 2021 season ruined plans for student-athletes such as Alex Carnegie, pictured, who had hoped to use his final season at Cornell to get recruited for graduate play elsewhere.

April 3, 2020

Ivy League Presidents Spark Outrage Over ‘Archaic’ Ruling Denying Spring Sport Athletes Added Eligibility

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In an effort to preserve its time-honored tradition of amateurism, the Ivy League announced to its members Thursday that spring athletes, who were given an extra year of eligibility by the NCAA, would not be permitted to spend that season with the Ancient Eight.

It is a longstanding rule that the Ivy League, unlike other conferences, does not permit postgraduate students to participate in varsity athletics. Many had thought, however, that the extenuating circumstances that culminated in the cancellation of all spring sports for 2020 would lead to a break from this rule.

The NCAA on Monday officially granted all spring athletes another year of eligibility due to their loss of the 2020 season, which was canceled amid concerns over COVID-19. But just days later, Ivy League presidents voted against allowing their own spring sport athletes to spend a fourth season with their undergraduate institution.

The League’s decision quickly drew criticism for holding steadfast to its eligibility requirements during an unprecedented time — the Ivy League, founded in 1954, has never canceled an entire sports season.

Jack and Lynda Carnegie, parents to Cornell baseball senior shortstop Alex Carnegie, penned a letter to all Ivy League presidents, urging them to reconsider the conference’s decision.

“The Ivy League’s decision has left these students out in the cold not only with respect to their athletic aspirations but with respect to their educations and future careers,” the letter read.

Alex Carnegie, who earned the spot of starting shortstop after walking on to the team, was hoping to use his senior season to get the attention of coaches at other schools — an injury in his sophomore year meant he had another year of eligibility already lined up. Because he wouldn’t be able to spend that year at Cornell as a graduate under normal circumstances, his senior season was crucial for getting recruited to another institution to use up his final year of eligibility.

But his senior season, too, was snatched away. Though he could technically play elsewhere, without another year of stats to prove to a coach at a new school that he deserves a spot on the roster, he is unlikely to get recruited anywhere.

“He had the opportunity — by playing through the season — for other coaches to see him and potentially get recruited,” Alex’s father, Jack, told The Sun. “But now with the season being canceled, that opportunity’s been lost.”

With the season gone, Alex Carnegie’s future is in limbo. He plans on graduating in May, but beyond that, his plans have been destroyed by the Ivy League’s ruling.

“I don’t think that [the Ivy League presidents] realize that this is not just about the opportunity to play a sport,” Jack Carnegie said. “It also affects these kids’ ability to go to advanced degrees, and it’s going to affect their careers down the road.”

Parents of other seniors on the team also signed off on the statement, showing their support of the presidents’ reconsidering the rule.

Alex Carnegie learned about the League’s decision via a message from head coach Dan Pepicelli on Thursday.

“I don’t really know [why the League made its decision], other than to uphold an archaic rule they’ve had forever and may seem to set them apart,” Lynda Carnegie told The Sun. “I don’t think in this instance that they should do that, because it hurts the students that are involved.”

Almost 70 senior Ancient Eight spring sport athletes already entered the transfer portal in an effort to switch institutions for their last year of eligibility as of Thursday evening, an anonymous source told ESPN. These athletes will look to play their final season with institutions that permit graduate students to play varsity athletics.

Any athlete in a spring sport this year, so long as they graduate in four years, will only ever play three seasons with Cornell. However, were a senior to fail to graduate on time, he or she could play next year with the added eligibility, given that he or she would technically remain an undergraduate.

Another obstacle for graduate transfers to surmount is that, at a new institution, any athletic scholarship they receive will count against the school’s scholarship limit. This limit is waived by the NCAA for schools when the student-athlete stays at his or her undergraduate institution.

Of course, the Ivy League does not award athletic scholarships, anyway. But this rule makes graduate transfers look less appealing to the coaches that might recruit them.

“The Ivies are in a special situation because [granting another year of eligibility] doesn’t cost them anything, like it may cost other schools, because the Ivies don’t give athletic scholarships,” Jack Carnegie said. “So there’s no financial disincentive.”

The Ivy League has exacerbated an already difficult situation for its spring student-athletes, throwing their futures into uncertainty and taking away opportunities both academic and athletic.