Gymnastics News Network
By: Eileen Patchey
Recently an athlete at UCLA was awarded a sixth year of eligibility, the reasoning being that she had missed two seasons due to knee surgeries. The athlete was gymnast Christine (Peng-Peng) Lee, who finished her career in April 2017-or so we all thought. Lee is a decorated (and beloved) gymnast for the Bruins, and arrived at UCLA as the top Canadian gymnast that year. She garnered many International titles and awards including a bronze medal for all-around and silver for both beam and floor at the 2012 Pacific Rim Championships, and a top 20 finish at the 2011 World Championships competing all-around. Lee suffered a back injury that kept her out of competition for two years, but came back to win the all-around in the 2010 Elite Canada Competition. In both 2011 and 2012, until she suffered a knee injury which kept her from competing in the Canadian National Championships, and thus, the 2012 Olympic Games. She was however, named honorary captain of Team Canada.
As a Bruin, Lee scored two perfect tens during the 2017 season; one on bars and another on beam. She is a 6 time All-American, and her other titles are too numerous to mention. So receiving a sixth year of eligibility should be a no-brainer. Or should it?
Along with her bubbly personality and incredible talent, Lee has a history of injuries. True, she is valuable to her team, but at what price? Aside from the injuries (which are not uncommon to high level athletes), Lee is aging out in a sport that demands youth. But my issue isn’t with Peng-Peng Lee personally, it’s with the idea of stretching out the careers of collegiate athletes in general. I know of several teams (gymnastics as well as other sports) where athletes don’t even see action their freshman year. They are “redshirted” for various reasons, thus prolonging their time on the team. NCAA Division I has a five-year rule in place, meaning that from the first day you enter college, you have five years to complete your four years of competition. The five-year period is important because even though you may redshirt for one year, the clock is still ticking. Say you are redshirted your freshman year. This means you only have four years left to complete the four years of competition you are allowed. If you are injured another year and out for the season, you cannot add another year even with a medical hardship waiver because the clock is still running on your original five-year period.
So how did Lee receive a sixth year of eligibility? A waiver of the five-year period of eligibility can be granted by the NCAA based on reasons that are beyond the control of the student-athlete. While surgeries resulting from injuries is most certainly beyond the control of any student-athlete, where do we draw the line? Is it selfish for a coach to want to retain an athlete for a longer period of time? Is this a way to prolong the inevitable end of a collegiate athletic career? For scholarship athletes this means another year of tuition being paid out, not to mention the academic impact. I imagine it is a bonus to have a year of schooling paid for, but when do we say enough is enough and let anther athlete have a chance at that scholarship money?
Needless to say, I have mixed feelings on this issue, however, I will not complain one little bit about having the chance to watch Peng-Peng Lee execute her beautiful routines for yet another year.
Source: UCLA Athletics, athletes-usa.com
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