Breaking down nontraditional college athletes
The GIST: It’s officially back-to-school season, but it’s not just kids waiting for the college sports bus. From hoops to soccer to baseball to golf, older athletes have been defying expectations for years, proving it’s never too late to pursue collegiate sports dreams. It’s giving Billy Madison…or even Peyton Manning.
✅ Eligibility and exceptions: While the NCAA doesn’t generally have age limits, it does impose eligibility requirements (like enrolling within a year of high school graduation), so most athletes are under age 24. That said, there are a myriad of exceptions, including study abroad, pregnancy, medical redshirting, and military service, that can delay college play.
- Because the NCAA is hellbent on keeping college sports from turning (fully) pro, it evaluates folks on a case-by-case basis to ensure they’re amateurs in their chosen game…even if they were pros in another.
👟 Outrunning Gen Z: It may not be NCAA, but junior college Daytona State’s 2018 cross country squad rostered not one, not two, but three women over 40, including then-50-year-old marathoner Bego Lopez. The trio all crossed 5K finish lines in less than 22 minutes — a Top 10 regional time at that level. Wisdom and speed? Yes, please.
🏈 The gridiron gramps: From wide receiver to linebacker to kicker, a whole host of older athletes have competed in arguably one of the most physically demanding sports: football. Division I’s oldest-ever athlete is 2016 South Carolina State’s (SCSU) then-55-year-old running back Joe Thomas Sr., father of then–Green Bay Packer and SCSU alum Joe Thomas Jr.
⚾ The post office outfielder: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could keep the aforementioned Fullan, a retired postal worker, off last season’s baseball diamond. The then-56-year-old MCCC outfielder’s bat impressed his teenage teammates at try-outs, earning Fullan a spot on the current roster. Over the fence, not yet over the hill.
🏀 Hoopin’ and hollerin’: Many of these nontraditional athletes are even older than their coaches, but Glendale College’s then-40-year-old women’s basketball guard, Vicky Oganyan, was both, all at once. Starting in 2020 until her 2023 final shot, she fulfilled her college dreams while also coaching on the side.