Shocking the lacrosse world on a preseason Tuesday afternoon, Virginia senior midfielder and captain Dox Aitken has returned to Charlottesville after spending the entirety of the fall with the Villanova football team. This comes with huge implications on the college lacrosse scene, as arguably the nation’s top offensive midfielder returns to an already loaded Virginia team looking to repeat as national champions after last season was cut short due to the pandemic.
Villanova assistant coach Nate Pagan reported the news to U.S. Lacrosse Magazine, citing the “uncertainty of everything” as the primary factor in Aitken’s return to Charlottesville.
Aitken, a three-time USILA All-American and two-time All-ACC selection, originally announced that he would play football at Villanova for his fifth year back in February 2020. Hailing from the greater-Philadelphia area, Aitken played lacrosse and football at The Haverford School — just two miles away from Villanova’s campus.
The NCAA allows student-athletes to exhaust four years of eligibility with one sport and to still take a fifth year and participate in a different sport. Super Bowl-winning wide receiver Chris Hogan is a prime example of this opportunity — after playing lacrosse at Penn State, he took a fifth year to play football at Monmouth.
When the pandemic struck in March, canceling the Cavaliers’ young yet promising season, Coach Lars Tiffany announced that Aitken would pursue football at Villanova before returning to Charlottesville to play one final season of college lacrosse for the Cavaliers — utilizing the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted to all student-athletes affected by the pandemic.
This NCAA statute was discovered by Virginia’s compliance office and allows a student-athlete to play four years at a school, go to another and still return to the original school.
“It’s a 20-year-old statute,” Tiffany said in June 2020. “Not sure why it’s in there, but we’re happy our compliance office found it. It allows Dox to pursue his passion. He really wants to play football. He wants to measure himself in a different sport, and he really wants to come back to U.Va. and play a fifth year. Now he has a chance to do that.”
Due to the pandemic, however, Villanova and the Colonial Athletic Association announced that they would cancel the fall 2020 football season with hopes to play in the spring. In November, Aitken committed to Villanova for the spring, effectively ending his Virginia career.
“I don’t think we’re going to see him play for Virginia lacrosse again, unfortunately,” Tiffany said to U.S. Lacrosse Magazine. “Of course, we’d want him back, but I want Dox to be happy, and I really think he’s excited about this new challenge.”
However, in another sudden turn of events, Aitken now intends to write the final chapter of his illustrious lacrosse career by defending his title with the Cavaliers. With the CAA’s spring football season cloaked in uncertainty, Aitken decided to pursue one last ride alongside Tiffany and his Virginia teammates.
Aitken already holds the Virginia record for career goals as a midfielder with 121 and will surely be in the running for his fourth USILA All-American Nomination, not to mention the elusive Tewaaraton Award — awarded to the most outstanding male and female collegiate lacrosse player each season. Beyond individual accolades, he surely hopes to lead the Cavaliers to a repeat ACC and national championship.