VANCOUVER, BC- A world with no balls to be kicked, no pucks to be slapped and no touchdowns to be celebrated. That’s the world of 2020 fall sports in the U SPORTS conferences of Canada West, OUA and AUS this year. This news leaves a lot of questions, so I’ve tried to answer those here.
What about the two-semester (fall/winter) sports?
The two-semester sports such as hockey, basketball, and volleyball will have shortened seasons, but are still planned to happen. In Canada West’s revised schedule announcement back in May, hockey teams were supposed to play 10 games, while basketball and volleyball had 16. However, with the season not starting until January at the earliest, this number would be cut down substantially, and could also include games only against those schools that are close in proximity.
49 Sports has learned that OUA hockey is looking to come back before others, and could hit the ice as soon as November, however, January remains most likely based on today’s announcement. Canada West has listed Oct.8 as the deadline for announcing what they’re doing with two-semester sports. Canada West also has another problem, and that is that Saskatchewan’s new Merlis Belshir Place has been converted into a hospital amid the pandemic.
How does this affect the RSEQ?
The RSEQ (Quebec) is the only conference not to cancel, however, without national championships, it seems inevitable. The province has been one of the hardest hit by Covid-19, making it seem highly unlikely that sport will be played anytime soon. Most member universities have also communicated to their students that education will be done remotely.
How does this affect national championships?
The largest one that will be missed is the Vanier Cup, the U SPORTS football championship that has been contested for over 55 years. The Vanier Cup and the U SPORTS Women’s Rugby Championship had yet to find a host city, but the same cannot be said for the other fall sports. Soccer had the men’s championship set for the beginning of November in Ottawa, the women in Cape Breton, while field hockey was to be hosted by the OUA’s best. All of these tournaments have been cancelled, but there has been no word on if the 2020 host cities will retain the 2021 championships.
While the lack of the tournaments themselves is one issue, it brings a slew of others, such as broadcasts and the rights deals surrounding them. U SPORTS has a digital and national broadcast deal with CBC Sports that was announced in the fall of 2019. Without the Vanier Cup, it leaves CBC without one of the major components that were acquired in the deal, and the cancellation could lead to some tension between the company and U SPORTS.
Cancellation was not confirmed for track and field and cross-country yet, so those continue to be a possibility.
What does it mean for eligibility?
U SPORTS athletes who have had their national championships cancelled will not be charged a year of eligibility. In normal times, student-athletes have five years to complete but can never compete for a school without being a student. With many “would have been” fifth-years graduating, they would not be able to play in U SPORTS next year. However, U SPORTS is looking at possible solutions to allow seniors to come back for what would effectively be their sixth year of school. Each individual student-athlete will have to make the decision on their own, as many would prefer to move on with their life than do an extra year of school just for sport.
What happens to the Athletic Scholarships?
This is uncharted territory for U SPORTS schools when it comes to financial awards. There is no Force Majeure or cancellation clause in U SPORTS by-law “50.1- Athletic Financial Awards Policy,” meaning this could have been a precarious situation, but U SPORTS has said that student-athletes will remain eligible for the regular awards.
For student-athletes to be awarded a scholarship, they must be listed on an “eligibility certificate,” and there was some worry that these may not be given out this year. However, students who meet the regular qualifications for scholarships/Athletic Financial Awards will still be able to receive athletic financial awards.
With many universities offering pass/fail options on course, U SPORTS has said they will accommodate special awards such as Academic All-Canadian standing to reflect the alternate marking schemes.
For men’s hockey,.players coming out of major junior have the benefit of the CHL’s scholarship program, which pays for a year of education for each year the player played in the CHL. These benefits are unaffected even if the hockey season is cancelled.
What will return-to-play eventually look like?
Return-to-play depends on a lot of different factors. First is the approval of the provincial health authorities allowing sport and contact sports to happen. Looking at most provinces’ numbers outside of Quebec and Ontario, this has either already happened or is soon to happen. The eventual plan is for U SPORTS schools to begin practicing later in the fall to prepare for a January start.
UBC Director of Athletics Kavi Toor said “We plan on having our facilities open and having athletes train as if we had a season, just to keep the competitive juices following,” in a call with the media.
The OUA also stated that it is possible that some fall sports could be moved to the spring and be played under the OUA without national championships. As for Canada West, Clint Hamilton (BOD Chair) told 49 Sports that he could see friendly matches between teams but these would not fall under the Canada West banner.
What about those professional drafts such as CFL/CPL/CEBL?
As of now, there have been no conversations between U SPORTS or individual conferences with the professional leagues.
Of these drafts, the least affected are the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL). If a basketball season is played from January to March, there is still the possibility of scouting; the real problems come for the Canadian Football League (CFL) and Canadian Premier League (CPL).
For soccer, much of the scouting comes at the U SPORTS National Championship, which is held concurrently with the U SPORTS/CPL Draft. Without the tournament this year, it leaves CPL teams in a tight situation. They simply are unable to scout senior players before the draft, and if the CPL Draft is to go ahead as regularly scheduled, most coaches will have to take a “shot in the dark” approach at players they saw in junior years and regional leagues. This will be difficult but made easier by the fact the draft is only two rounds.
CFL is going to have the toughest go. The league doesn’t even know if it is coming back in 2021, as it’s the current financial situation is unstable, however, that doesn’t mean that planning for the future has to stop. CFL teams have larger scouting groups than CPL and have watched the players throughout their U SPORTS careers, however, with the lack of a season, it could mean fewer U SPORTS athletes selected. CFL teams often select Canadian players from the USA’s NCAA, something they could rely on to fill their draft classes.
How do the cancellations affect the U SPORTS recruiting process going forward?
A lot of this depends on what U SPORTS decides the status of seniors is. With today’s decision, it was confirmed that athletes who have had their national championships cancelled will not be charged a year of eligibility, but what that means for seniors is unclear.
If seniors remain on the roster in 2021, it creates a double-cohort of incoming student-athletes and puts rosters well above the usual size. The simplest decision to avoid this problem would be to not allow seniors to come back for the sixth season of U SPORTS action. It would be seen as cold-blooded and tough, but it is the simplest way to keep future recruiting disruptions to a minimum.
How about non-U SPORTS collegiate leagues? (OCAA,ACAC,BCIHL,CUFLA)
There’s a lot of these, so I’m only touching on what I know. It was unexpected, but the Ontario Collegiate Conference cancelled at the same time as U SPORTS conferences did, meaning there will be no collegiate level sports in Ontario, however, the same cannot be said for the ACAC (Alberta), BCIHL (BC intercollegiate hockey) and CUFLA (Lacrosse).
All leagues but CUFLA confirmed to 49 Sports that they are hoping to get a season, so here are some key dates. The AGM of the BCIHL took place last week, and the four schools involved came up with a potential schedule starting October 15. The school’s representatives are meeting regularly to discuss the next steps, but with BC’s Covid-19 numbers so promising, this league could very well be on schedule. While it is not a huge money-making league, cancelling the season would also likely prove as the nail in the coffin and force the BCIHL to fold.
The ACAC is in a similar situation, with members meeting weekly to discuss plans, and the conference is collecting reports from each school to get a sense of what each is planning academically and athletically for the fall. The final decision will be made on June 25.
CUFLA is very interesting, as many of its schools are also U SPORTS members. The conference did not say much Monday, other than it has not cancelled and is looking towards a fall season. However, this is unlikely to happen based on it’s surrounding sporting bodies.
It’s a sad day for Canadian university athletics. Many athletes have now played their last competitive games without knowing it, and it’s going to prove a challenge for everybody involved. One of those challenges will of course be to us here at 49 Sports. With the majority of U SPORTS and Canadian university athletics cancelled for the next six months, our staff will be challenged, but we know that Canadian athletes in the NCAA and other non-canceled leagues will continue to inspire stories, allowing us to tell them. It’s tough, but we’ll all get through this.