The fifth-year student dilemma  


By Paige Bowman
February 6, 2023

Health science major and soccer player Rebekah Cunningham reads her spring season practice plans. Photo by Paige Bowman.
Health science major and soccer player Rebekah Cunningham reads her spring season practice plans. Photo by Paige Bowman.

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

Erin Agnew and Cabrini Field Hockey play pickup. Photo from Cabrini Field Hockey. 

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

Gia Rebilas gets ready for her upcoming softball season. Photo by Paige Bowman.

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.  

“I think Cabrini has experienced the same struggles as all other Division III schools have experienced, with the biggest struggle being the increase in roster size. Teams are offering spots to their fifth-year seniors, but in wanting to continue to build their programs, teams are still actively recruiting to bring in first-year players, so handling a larger roster becomes tough,” Runyen said.

Paige Bowman

My name is Paige Bowman. I am a junior digital communication major, minoring in marketing. I’m from Watsontown, located in rural central Pennsylvania. At Cabrini, I have played on the women’s soccer team for all three of my years. I have been playing soccer since I was four years old and can’t remember a time before it. In my free time, I am an avid hiker, runner, and kayaker. I take my dog, Clementine, with me on all my adventures. She is a rescue from South Carolina who shares the same interests as me. Some of my other passions include painting and art of any kind. I help create graphics and game day edits for my soccer team. During the school year, I live off campus in the nearby town of Conshohocken. When I’m not at school, I love to visit my grandma Rita and play card games with her. To this day she has yet to beat me in a game of Rummy.

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