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Why Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers have an extra year of eligibility

Iowa's Caitlin Clark signs autographs for fans after her team's opening game of the 2023-24 season. (Joseph Cress/USA TODAY NETWORK)

Top prospects for the 2024 WNBA Draft could choose to stay in college rather than go pro.

While Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers and Angel Reese are all in their fourth years, all have an extra year of eligibility available due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NCAA basketball players who participated in the 2019-20 season were granted an extra year of eligibility as a result of the pandemic, which affected the 2020-21 season. That coincided with the freshman year of current fourth-year players. So Iowa’s Clark and LSU’s Reese could return for a fifth year — and Bueckers, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, could even stay for a sixth year.

But just because they can, doesn’t mean they will.

“I really have no clue what I’m going to do, stay for an extra year or leave after next year,” Clark said in February. The Iowa senior remains undecided, she confirmed in October, saying she plans to “treat this year like this is my last year” but has not made up her mind.

“It’s been hard for a lot of college athletes to decide what to do, just because there are pros to staying in college but also your dream of reaching the next level is right there,” she said.

Likewise, Bueckers has not made up her mind about her future with UConn beyond the 2023-24 season.

“I guess we’ll see,” the redshirt junior said when asked about her plans in early October.

Clark and Bueckers both have spoken at length about their love for their schools and for the college experience, which complicates their decisions.

“There’s always a chance,” Bueckers said in March. “I have three more years of eligibility. I’m not declining, not saying for sure I will or for sure I won’t. But there’s definitely an opportunity for me to return for a fifth year, even maybe a sixth year.”

Add Reese’s name to the list as well. After leading LSU to the 2023 national title, she has hinted at a possible fifth year on social media — but she also has been open about her WNBA aspirations.

“While I do have the option for another year, I do want to get out of college, start life outside of school, and pursue my WNBA dreams,” she said in September.

In 2023, Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson was projected as a WNBA lottery pick but chose to use her extra year of eligibility. Other big names to do so include Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore, UCLA’s Charisma Osborne, TCU’s Sedona Prince and Penn State’s Ashley Owusu.