Senior athletes seek transfers, citing canceled seasons and graduate ineligibility

by Olivia Morton and Ethan Strauss | 1/8/21 2:00am

chrisknightcourtesy

Forward Chris Knight '21 will play as a graduate student next year at Loyola Chicago University after recovering from his left Achilles injury.

Source: Courtesy of Chris Knight '21

The Ivy League’s November cancellation of winter sports, and its decision not to move fall sports to the spring, have dashed senior athletes’ hopes for a proper sendoff. Due to the league’s staunch policy against graduate athletic participation, many student-athletes have transferred out of the conference to take advantage of their final years of eligibility.

Since the cancellation of spring sports last year, the Big Green men’s basketball, football, men’s hockey, women’s lacrosse, men’s soccer, softball, men’s tennis, women’s track and field teams — and potentially others —  have seen seniors transfer elsewhere for their final years of eligibility. These transfers come in the wake of a previous reduction in the number of athletes on campus after the College’s July 9 elimination of five varsity sports teams spurred transfers this fall.

Some members of the Class of 2021 began their transfer processes this summer, since a normal Ivy League athletic season appeared unlikely. For basketball forward Chris Knight ’21, an Aug. 4 surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon prompted an early start to the transfer process, and the cancellation of the winter season forced his hand. To continue his career at Dartmouth, Knight would have needed to place his academic career on hold to graduate one year later, similar to guard Brendan Barry ’20’s plan to stay with the Big Green until the season cancellation compelled him to transfer to Temple University.

Instead of altering his academic plans, Knight chose to join the Loyola University Chicago Ramblers for his final official year of eligibility while pursuing an MBA degree. Knight said that the program’s openness to transfer students made for an attractive offer.

“[Loyola Chicago] definitely had experience with [transfers] and with bringing new guys in and adjusting them to the playing culture,” Knight said. “So I felt really comfortable with that decision knowing that they've done it before and they've had success doing it.”

Although it was challenging for the Dartmouth men’s basketball coaches to see Barry and Knight leave the program, coach David McLaughlin said the coaches understood the difficult situation posed by the pandemic. McLaughlin said transfer decisions were understandable given the Ivy League rules preventing graduate eligibility. 

“I think if you were to transfer and not graduate, that's one thing,” McLaughlin said. “Now that you're graduating, and we are in a league that does not allow graduate students to play … it tends to make the decision very one-sided for the players, so there's no negativity to it whatsoever.”

Like Knight, football wide receiver Drew Estrada ’20 will transfer and play as a graduate student. After an injury his freshman year granted him an extra year of eligibility, Estrada already planned to take a fifth year as an undergraduate at Dartmouth. However, with the cancellation of fall sports, Estrada lost his opportunity for a final season at the College. Instead, Estrada finished his classes last fall and placed his name in the transfer portal in October. 

Estrada will fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the Big-12 after committing to Baylor University. He documented his transfer journey on Twitter, revealing other offers from Florida State University, Texas Christian University and the University of Utah, among others. Estrada will head to Baylor this spring to take classes and get a head start on his MBA before finishing his collegiate football career with the Bears this fall. 

“I wasn't able to visit any of the places that offered me [a spot], so it was all about really just the conversations that I had with the coaches and the rest of the staff and what I really felt most comfortable with,” Estrada said. “At the end of the day, that was Baylor.”

Estrada praised head coach Buddy Teevens and his staff for their empathy and assistance throughout the transition.  

“As time progressed, I was talking to them about my options, and it became more clear that I really didn't have many options,” Estrada said. “I couldn't stay at Dartmouth, and they knew that, and they really helped me a lot in the recruiting process, just by being able to reach out to their contacts and … get my name out there a little bit.” 

Some non-seniors have also transferred schools, including Asha Taylor ’22, a guard for the women’s basketball team. After the pandemic disrupted her plans for a spring internship, Taylor decided to enroll in classes for the spring and continue taking classes during her sophomore summer, enabling her to graduate this June with the help of a couple four-course terms. 

“After speaking to my coaches and my teammates and my friends and family, we kind of just decided it made sense to graduate early,” Taylor said. “That was never the plan going into Dartmouth. It was just because of these unprecedented times — they called for unprecedented measures.”

Taylor’s early graduation leaves her with two extra years of eligibility: one from this year’s canceled season and one from what would have been her senior year at Dartmouth. Taylor said that the NCAA’s granting of eligibility extensions for winter-sport athletes has led to a surge in the number of students entering the transfer portal, so she wants to leverage her two remaining years of eligibility as she looks for her next school.

Though Taylor is no longer practicing with the team, she said she continues to support her former teammates as she searches for her next academic and athletic home. 

Estrada also emphasized the special place that Dartmouth will hold for him.

“There [are] just little things in there that you can't really replace, little moments here and there,” Estrada said. “I'm going to miss Hanover a lot, and the atmosphere of Dartmouth. … It really changed my life for the better.”

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