STEINER: How U SPORTS Field Hockey Could Work, Even if Other Sports Can’t

Vancouver, BC- Field hockey is one of the more intriguing competitions in U SPORTS. The conference setup has always been a point of contingency, however, its odd split of divisions could make it one of the best sports to happen in a school year impacted by COVID-19. 

There are 10 teams that compete in U SPORTS, only three of which are in Canada West. The national championship is contested by the winner of the west against the winner of the OUA. While in any normal year a championship is technically easier for Canada West, the alignment is one that could prove beneficial this season. 

How Canada West could work:

Canada West’s board of directors released a plan to re-format the coming season of every sport including field hockey. The sport is the only one that is set to play their usual amount of games, however, the way they do so is different. Rather than playing a traditional eight-game schedule, the season will consist of the three participating teams competing in two double round-robin tournaments. This limits travel, as well as time that students potentially need to be on campus. 

UBC and Victoria, two of the schools that compete in Canada West have announced their plans to have a mixture of online and in-person teaching strategies for the fall semester, and that is something that field hockey could potentially work with. In addition to an email to students, UBC president Santa Ono spoke to the CBC about how some students may be able to come to class in smaller capacities. If we are to take some of the statements from Ono, among others, we can begin to see the possibility of field hockey happening without the other sports. 

If we assume that many of the students will be doing the majority of their schoolwork remotely, a university field hockey team could go by similar rules to youth sports. This would mean that players and coaches who are in their school’s city could get together for practices, as well as travel to the tournaments as long as provincial health regulations allow it. That being said, with British Columbia’s top doctor, Dr.Bonnie Henry speaking about a gradual return to sports, more emphasis than usual may have to be put on individual workouts. 

Combining the individual workouts with team practices, it could be possible to complete a field hockey season in the re-formatted structure without everybody being on campus or in traditional classes. 

Of course, there are a slew of problems even if the health authorities say the sport is safe. The biggest one of these would be the likely absence of players who are not based in their school’s city, meaning some schools could miss out on top players. 

There were 60 players on Canada West rosters last year between the three schools, and  12 lived in places where it would be impossible to travel to campus twice a week. This number would be a tough pill to swallow, but completing a season with limited participation from these student-athletes could technically be possible. Field hockey has the most local talent of any of the Canada West sports, therefore making this idea feasible in some way. 

Both Canada West’s re-formatted schedule and the ideas discussed here all remain in question, as the answer could be very simple. If students are not on campus, then U SPORTS competition does not happen, despite how much everyone may want it to.

How could OUA competition work?

The OUA is much larger, and therefore a fair bit more complicated. While there will likely be a re-formatted structure published as there was in Canada West, such a thing has not yet been made public. Leaving the brainstorming all up to me.

So here is a possible idea. 

Keep the one division system, but cut the number of games from 12 to six, before finishing off with a final.

With seven teams spread across two provinces, it is a bit of a challenge to cut things down, but here’s a way to do it. 

FH Varsity Blues v York
Toronto could host a short tournament (Jojo Quian/ For York Lions Athletics)

Rather than having a proper season, a single tournament would have to do. Since Toronto is a city situated closest to the middle of everyone, all seven teams would come to Toronto and play one game against each other. This tournament could be done in three days if five games took place across the city each day. Following the round-robin, the top two teams would meet at the home of the higher seed for the final match on a sperate occasion. 

This solution, albeit tough to pull off would include two occasions of play, similar to Canada West, and would allow schools to save cash on the immense road travel that they would have undertaken in a regular year. 

Although the tournament idea could work, the problem of player location remains. With the OUA being a larger conference, there are far more players who are far away from their school’s locales, however they may be able to meet up with their team for the single tournament. It is a disadvantage, but it is a disadvantage to all, therefore somewhat levelling the playing field. 

It’s just an idea, and realistically it’s not going to happen, but there is a possible way that such an event could take place, even without students in regular classroom sessions. 

National Championships and Conclusion: 

The University of Victoria Vikes (U SPORTS)

The national championship would be played out regularly and would take place at the home of the OUA champions as had been originally arranged. Every sport and every student is set to take a hit in some form this academic year, and nothing in the world is like we knew it before. However, if the schools, the players, and most importantly, the health authorities are up to it, field hockey could be possible.

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