For some Penn baseball seniors, capitalizing off of the fifth year eligibility extension instituted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic is in the near future. However, this extra year cannot be spent at Penn, due to an Ivy League policy prohibiting graduate students from participating in varsity sports. The only exception to this rule came for athletes in the class of 2021 who had the ability to play as graduate students in the 2021-22 season.
As of now, five of the nine soon-to-be graduates are set to continue their athletic career next season after transfers to different institutions: first baseman Ben Miller at Duke, right-handed pitcher Brian Zeldin at Georgia, left-handed pitcher David Shoemaker at Virginia Tech, catcher Jackson Appel at Texas A&M, and left-handed pitcher Owen Coady at Virginia.
“The opportunity is there because of the pandemic," Coady said. "When everybody else in my grade jumped in the transfer portal to start looking, I did as well.” He was further influenced by former teammates from previous years who also took their talents elsewhere for a final year of eligibility when deciding to extend his collegiate career.
“If I had the opportunity to get a Master’s degree from Wharton, or something in the College, it definitely would’ve been something that crossed my mind and I would’ve considered it if I was allowed to stay for a fifth year,” Shoemaker said.
"Absolutely, it definitely would have been a consideration if the possibility was there," Coady added. "It wasn’t even an option, so we looked elsewhere and kind of just took the example of the guys before us.”
For Zeldin, a fifth year at UGA also means a return home to Atlanta. He has a 3.00 career ERA in the Red and Blue through 27 innings pitched. Having only allowed 26 hits through the seasons, Zeldin has been an arm the team can count on coming out of the bullpen.
Blue Devils fans can expect a major offensive addition to the team's roster next season as Miller trades in the Red and Blue for Duke Blue. The Durham, N.C. native has not been shy at the plate this season, boasting a .345/.420/.593 slash line and six home runs. It's been Miller's best season as a Quaker yet, and his absence from the team next season will certainty be felt.
In yet another homecoming tale, a top-20 baseball program awaits Appel in his return to Texas. The second-team All-Ivy catcher from last season is currently batting .333 with 26 RBIs. The next Quaker set to fill Appel's role behind the plate will have large shoes to fill, as the starting catcher has built trusting relationships with many, if not all, of the Penn pitchers. Appel and Miller's impressive batting averages place the two at ninth and tenth, respectively, across the entire Ivy League.
Though the League’s policy forced them to explore other options for their fifth year, Shoemaker and Coady are both excited for their next seasons.
“It’s cool because me, Ben, and Owen are all playing in the same conference. We will get to play against each other next year, so that’ll just be a cool experience getting to wear different uniforms on the same field” Shoemaker said. He also noted that he’s looking forward to seeing how all the Quakers deciding to pursue a fifth year will fare at their respective schools.
Out of the bullpen, Shoemaker has been a staple for the Red and Blue's relief efforts this season. Through 21 innings of work, the left-hander has only allowed eight earned runs and one home run. Coady — arguably the conference's hottest pitcher right now — currently fares a 2.48 ERA and has a total of 52 strikeouts. With only 11 earned runs this season, Coady's strong arm will be tough to replace.
“The mindset is to finish business here before heading off,” Shoemaker said in an earlier interview. Penn baseball has 15 games left in the season, then the Ivy League Tournament, and finally the NCAA Men’s College World Series — which will finish out the Ivy League baseball career of these five Quakers.