The NCAA decided on Monday to grant an additional year of eligibility to all male and female athletes who play spring sports and have thus had their season ended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling does not effect wrestling, men’s or women’s basketball or other winter sports.
Among the thousands of athletes pleased to receive the news was University of Iowa junior pitcher Emma Olejniczak, a 2017 Perry High School grad.
Olejniczak had appeared in three games for the Hawkeyes (17-5), pitching two total innings against South Dakota State, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. She had one strikeout and four walks, allowing four hits and three runs (two earned) in her first spring for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes had just landed in Florida to participate in the University of South Florida Tournament and were to face Southeast Missouri State March 13 when the team was told the season had — at that time — been put on hiatus and they would be returning to Iowa City as soon as possible.
Olejniczak said she learned of the NCAA decision to restore eligibility through the media. Iowa head coach Renee Gillespie and assistants Trena Prater and Rick Dillinger were meeting today with the seven seniors on the team via online means, with the coaching staff to speak with juniors Wednesday.
“I am sure they will have more information for us then,” Olejniczak said. “Right now I don’t know much more than anybody else.”
Simply restoring an extra year may sound simple, but the implications for colleges and universities are myriad. Increases in roster size have been improved, as most departing seniors are likely to opt to remain in school.
For example, Iowa will be bringing in a new recruiting class, and this will create additional scholarship expense, mean adjustments to who is playing, how the team will find space on the diamond, and much more.
Olejniczak is a psychology major with a focus of geriatrics. She is pursing minor fields of education in Aging and Longevity Studies and is one of only 60 students who are part of Iowa’s American Sign Language instruction courses.
She was on course to graduate in 2021, but, with an additional season of softball suddenly opened before her, now has her eyes set on graduate studies.
“It certainly opens that door,” Olejniczak said. “A lot of people focus only on the athlete part of ‘student-athlete’ but to me academics is extremely important. I see this as having a chance to continue to study and have a year of grad school completed toward my eventually being a geriatric psychologist, or to at least work in that field.”
Known as a devoted off-season trainee, Olejniczak also expressed her excitement to having another season of coaching instruction, especially under pitching coach Rick Dillinger, whose hiring at Iowa was a key component in her decision to transfer after playing two seasons at the University of Northern Iowa.
“To have a whole year more to learn and improve is great for me,” Olejniczak said. “We played 22 games before the season was stopped, and now those are not being counted against us, so it is like having a bonus half-season added on. It means more softball, and I couldn’t be happier about that.”