To fifth-year or not fifth-year is now the question for many Division III athletes. Prior to COVID-19, fifth yearing at the Division III level was rare.
Division III only allows redshirts for strict medical reasons. A redshirt is when a player is held back from competition for a year without losing their year of eligibility. The case of being granted an extra year of eligibility generally happens at Division I and Division II levels, but when COVID-19 took away a whole year of eligibility, the NCAA offered a fifth year to all athletes.
Fifth-year students have taken on nicknames of super seniors, old heads, grandmas, and grandpas, but whatever you want to call them, student athletes taking their fifth-year have significantly impacted the Division III level like never before.
Coordinator of Student Athletic programming, Britt Runyen said, “It’s great that student-athletes were given the extra year to compete so that they still have the opportunity to get the most out of their time as a collegiate athlete. However, it has made things tricky when it comes to recruiting and the overall Division III experience. Rosters have gotten larger, much larger than we’re used to seeing at this level, and that changes the way coaches can coach and work with their teams.”
Current seniors in limbo
Since 2020, Cabrini athletes have taken advantage of that extra year, but the decision is hard and pricey. Athletics scholarships are not granted at the Division III level, so many students have to fund their fifth year themselves. Master’s-level classes at Cabrini are $705 per credit hour. A whole extra semester or two of grad school courses can be thousands of dollars for just one more year of sports eligibility.
Erin Agnew, senior criminology major and field hockey player, said, “I’m considering coming back for a fifth year because the criminology department here offers a four plus one bachelor’s master’s degree program and it is very cost-effective. However, I might not be taking my fifth year because I kind of want to just get out into the field and start getting working experience.”
Bigger teams make it difficult for underclassmen
Fifth yearing has changed the Division III level in many ways. It even impacts recruiting the next wave of Cabrini athletes as well as current freshmen and sophomores who don’t have the extra year of eligibility. Fifth yearing has made the team bigger, which also means it’s harder for underclassmen to compete.
Freshman business management major and softball player Gia Rebilas said, “There’s a lot of extra people that you have to beat out for a spot. It’s hard when you’re going against someone who has four years of experience over you. It definitely impacted playing time.”
Some athletes feel forced to take an extra year to finally be the top dog of their team. This has caused a ripple effect each year. The senior class isn’t senior because there is still a class ahead of them.