COVID-19 causes havoc for British student-athletes as timeline for US return unknown -

COVID-19 causes havoc for British student-athletes as timeline for US return unknown

Tosan Evbuomwan

Numerous British basketball players on scholarship at US colleges face uncertainty as to when and if they will be able to return to the US with the COVID-19 pandemic causing global havoc.

There are approximately 200 British players affected with incoming freshmen being particularly hard-hit, due to not already having their F-1 five-year student visa and unable to get it with the US embassy currently closed and providing ’emergency and mission critical’ visa services only.

And with the vast majority of the 200 Brits who play in US colleges currently back in the UK, they face being stranded with nowhere to play due to strict eligibility rules.

Multiple people believe there is a chance freshmen – many of whom would normally be in the US this month for summer school – will not get to the US at all for at least their first semester.

“It could well be that no incoming freshman get to the US before the new semester starts here,” Montana State University assistant Coach and former GB international Chris Haslam told Hoopsfix.

“All embassies have been closed so no student visas have been able to be issued. Also with the US borders being closed to the UK and Schengen Areas there is the chance right now that the borders wont be open before the start of the new school year so there will be so many student athletes that will be affected if there isn’t a change in time to the border policy right now.

“I’m trying to stay positive about it all. There are so many international students that study in the US, if they aren’t allowed to continue to study here then it will be a huge financial hit for universities all over the US.”

Meanwhile, sophomores, juniors and seniors are battling the travel ban put into effect in March, with the US accepting no incoming flights from the UK.

There are institutions and players known to be looking at the viability of booking flights for international players via a non-banned arrival destination; Croatia, Serbia and Turkey are all currently able to fly to the US, with players needing to stay there for 15 days before heading to the US.

Problems are further compounded by the the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency saying they will deport or deny entry to all international college students if their school is offering online courses only this fall – a move a number of institutions are adopting.

“Active students currently in the United States enrolled in such programs must depart the country or take other measures, such as transferring to a school with in-person instruction to remain in lawful status,” the press release says.

“If not, they may face immigration consequences including, but not limited to, the initiation of removal proceedings.”

Some schools are circumnavigating this by changing their status from online only to ‘hybrid’ with at least 1 physical class for student athletes so they are not exclusively online.

One British player in particular who knows he is looking at a very different season is Princeton’s Tosan Evbuomwan currently in Newcastle having returned just before lockdown. He has no indoor court access, and been doing bodyweight training to replace his normal lifting regime.

The Ivy League has cancelled all fall sports, and are not entertaining any sports being played until Jan 1 2021 at the earliest.

“The university announced that sophomores (myself) and seniors will be allowed on campus in the spring – so next year – whilst freshmen and juniors are allowed in the fall,” Evbuomwan told Hoopsfix.

“Ivy athletics have also been cancelled for certain in the fall and we await a decision for spring athletics. So pretty much I’m stuck here at home for a while with online school and no basketball for at least the first half of the year.

“I remain hopeful that I will be able to return in the spring at least, and hopefully we will have some form of a season then too

“Options for me now really are either to suck it up and ride it out hoping for the best or to defer for a year to return to the university in 21-22. This would perhaps allow me to stay here and play somewhere for a year if I feel there is a strong indication that there are no Ivy hoops for the entirety of the academic year.

He added Princeton have been “extremely supportive” throughout all of this, with it being clear the issues are not on the institution side; many of whom are actively trying to get the laws changed.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Advisory Council has also recommend that the NJCAA postpone start of the season until Spring semester of 2021.

One option on the table for players is redshirting the year so not to lose a year of their playing eligibility.

“It’s crazy times and a lot of moving pieces right now for international student-athletes,” LA-based Steve Vear, who runs recruiting service She’s Got Next to help place British girls in the US college system, told Hoopsfix.

“A lot of people are saying basketball isn’t going to happen this year. I’m not so sure but when the travel ban is lifted a lot of returning players who have their F-1 visas will be able to fly out from the UK. College athletics is so important here, I can’t see how they don’t figure it out.

“I understand people losing their minds but also safety is the main priority here. Campuses are going to look very different and so will competing but I’m actually quite optimistic after the Fall Semester by January there will be some movement. Right now, for UK players it’s a waiting game on the travel ban and for the US embassy re-opening.”

He added waivers and other rule amendments are being put in place; the NCAA has already removed the ACT/SAT requirements for incoming freshmen due to them not being able to sit the tests and thinks other rules may be relaxed to allow athletes stranded in their home countries to still be able to practice and stay in shape.

Under current NCAA bylaws players are not allowed to represent any other team outside of their college accept their National Team. It is known there are a number of coaches in the UK – unaware of NCAA eligibility requirements – have been attempting to recruit players to play domestically whilst waiting for their flights back out.

Vear added he would like to see the federation reach out to the NCAA to see if there are any exemptions that can be made for the numerous Brits currently stuck in the UK.

“I would hope the national governing body contact the NCAA asking if there is anything they can do,” Vear added.

“Maybe to put in a waiver request for these particular bylaws, as there is the potential of having over 200+ players stuck in the UK not being able to compete whilst the situation is ongoing.”

As further evidence of the long-term impact COVID-19 will have on the sports world, you can see a list of college athletic programs cutting and suspending school sports due to COVID-19 here.

If you are a US-based student-athlete looking for up-to-date information check out She’s Got Next COVID-19 updates page.

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