Jill Rizzo was practicing with her Ohio State women’s lacrosse teammates at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore on March 12 when her athletic career was put on hold.
Instead of playing in the Buckeyes’ Big Ten opener two days later, Ohio State’s match was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, the season was halted. Rizzo feared that her career was over.
On Monday, it was given new life. The NCAA’s decision to grant an extra year of eligibility to athletes in spring sports will allow Rizzo to have a complete senior season.
The ruling was expected to be issued late in the afternoon. It came hours later.
“You’re sitting there refreshing the Twitter feed to see if there’s any available information, but I was pretty confident they’d make the right decision,” Rizzo said Tuesday from her home in Queensbury, New York. “It was stressful but exciting.”
Women’s lacrosse is one of OSU’s 12 spring sports. For seniors who decide to take the extra year of eligibility, Ohio State announced that it will fund their scholarships at their current level next year, which is the maximum allowed by the NCAA’s ruling. Unlike football and basketball players, almost all other student-athletes are on partial scholarships.
Four Ohio State spring coaches — Greg Beals (baseball), Amy Bokker (women’s lacrosse), Nick Myers (men’s lacrosse) and tennis director Ty Tucker — spoke to reporters on a teleconference Tuesday to express their gratitude and relief that their seniors would get another chance to play.
“One of the challenges we’ve faced as a head coach is the connectivity to young men and women that had a season taken abruptly,” Myers said. “But then the unknown for weeks, especially with these seniors, of what the future (holds), I think you can imagine how challenging that is. (Monday) night, in a lot of ways, was a massive positive because it’s some closure to the unknown.”
It’s also just the beginning of a process that coaches and athletes will have to navigate. Not all eligible seniors will choose to return. Some have jobs or graduate school programs to start and want to move on to the next chapter of their lives. Bokker said Rizzo and New Albany’s Liza Hernandez are the only two of her seven seniors who intend to come back.
Roster management will also be a major issue. Rosters could be overloaded next year with the arrival of the incoming recruiting class and the return of extra-year seniors. The issue could continue for a few more years as current freshmen through juniors decide whether to take the extra year of eligibility.
“It’s going to get challenging in the next couple years for us as we manage our rosters because there’s a backlog,” Beals said. “I had nine freshmen that are being reclassified as freshmen, and I’ve got 11 freshmen coming in. I’m going to have a freshman class of 20. That class is going to stay with me for four years.”
Beals said it will require some tough conversations with players; after all, in baseball, only nine can play at a time. Beals said communication between coaches and players will be essential and that “mutual decisions” will need to be made.
Myers said he looks at the expanded roster as a plus because freshmen can learn from the seniors who’ll be especially grateful to have a final season.
“We feel really strongly about the young men that we recruited,” he said. “I don’t think this is going to be something that’s going to create a massive shift of any kind. We’ve had great dialogue with our incoming freshmen already about the opportunity that this creates for them.”
Bokker was a successful coach at Stanford before taking the Ohio State job. She said she wasn’t looking to leave Stanford but couldn’t pass up the chance to coach in what she called the country’s top conference and have a chance at a national championship.
“When I stepped foot on the campus of Ohio State and met some of the people I would have the opportunity to work with, it kind of became a no-brainer,” she said.
Her first season ended prematurely, but she feels as strongly as ever about her decision. Now she’ll get two of her senior stars back for another season.
Bokker said she was in contact frequently with Rizzo until getting the good news.
“She was over the moon,” Bokker said. “She also wants to be a coach, and I was bummed every day that I was going to only have her for a year. So she’s really excited. And I think what’s even more exciting is how excited the entire team is that she’s going to be a part of our program again.”
Rizzo said she appreciated the support OSU coaches and administrators provided.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play again, and that those are the people that are leading the path here at Ohio State,” she said.