The impact of new US law on the lives of two international student football players

For Great Britain’s Adam Raine, who attends Yale University and plays football for the Yale Bulldogs, the Ivy League announcement suspending all sports, was the second blow in a double whammy.

The first was the fact that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, ICE, announced that international students  who are pursuing degrees in the United States will have to leave the country or risk deportation if their universities switch to online-only courses.

The news also took Austria’s Thomas Schaffer by complete surprise. Schaffer is entering his fifth year with the Stanford Cardinal.

Like many, Raine suspected the some kind of announcement regarding universities might be coming, but not this kind of news.

“The news came as a shock. I was definitely expecting more flexibility, more leeway for international students. This certainly means I am faced with a new reality.”

Schaffer, who plays defensive end at Stanford, although not directly affected – yet – was still upset:

“I thought it was uncalled for to prevent students that are seeking an opportunity to better themselves from coming back. It seems unreasonably restrictive, especially when students are already in the US. It is one thing to bar flights to prevent further spread but specifically targeting students is not helping anyone.”

Hard on the heels of that announcement, the Ivy League announced that all fall sports, including football, have been suspended. So far the Pac 12, the conference in which Stanford competes, has not made any official announcements but it is expected that all non-conference games will be eliminated.

Still, the news that the football season has been put off isn’t a complete disaster for Raine. It buys him some time.

“Had there been football, I could not have stayed to play anyway. I would have been forced to go home. I have decided that I am going to take a semester off from Yale (a leave of absence). This way, depending on the situation, I can play my last season in the fall of 2022.”

Yale has an eight semester policy. All students must graduate within eight semesters. So in order to play out his two remaining years of eligibility Raine has to take this fall off from Yale so he doesn’t complete eight semesters after only playing three years of football. So if he simply took his online courses this fall , he would use up another semester (without football), but by taking a leave of absence he can “gain” the 2022 fall semester.

The 21 year old native of  Basingstoke, England, was entering his junior year at Yale and with two years left to get his degree in economics, the last thing he wants to do is hurt his last two years of eligibility to play football.

“I would really like to go back to Yale if at all possible. I don’t want to jeopardize my two years of eligibility by finishing my degree at home in the UK..”

Raine was accepted to Yale after being discovered at a Premier Players International combine in February, 2017. He attended Berkshire Boarding school in Sheffield, Massachusetts where his talents and academics came to the attention of a number of Ivy League schools.

Although he has been able to play football on a scholarship, Schaffer is still shocked at how the lives of so many young student athletes are  seriously affected:

“I think this has a negative on many sports across the country, specifically sports that are played in foreign countries such as soccer, field hockey, rowing among others. In particular, my friends from Austria and Germany in football could be affected by this ruling. It hurts me to see all their hard work go to waste because they are deported for not having in-person classes.”

The 23 year old, who would be looking at his final season, will still try to remain at school even if the football season is shut down.

“I think that if Covid-19 gets so bad that it pushes my university to go online only, the football season will likely be cancelled as well. Otherwise, I have talked to some administrators to work in a lab on campus to remain eligible for my degree according to F-1 requirements.”

Whatever the reason the thousands of international students and student athletes attending schools in the United States have been targeted, it’s clear the impact will vary. Some will have to adjust their plans somewhat while others will suffer a serious disruption in their futures.

For Raine, with two years remaining, and Schaffer (in his final year), the hope is that it will not also mean the premature end of a college athletic career.

Roger Kelly is an editor and a writer for AFI. A former PR Director the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League for 7 years, he now lives in Sweden writing about and scouting American Football throughout the world.