U SPORTS: Not too Golden, Alberta Suspends Trio of Programs for 2020-21

Vancouver,BC- University sports in Canada was dealt another blow on Wednesday, as the University of Alberta confirmed that none of their two-term sports teams will play in 2021. This affects the hockey, basketball and volleyball programs, who had not had their seasons cancelled entirely. 

The university cited financial reasons for the shutdown, specifically the cuts to the Alberta government university grant. Although the government grant was a large reason, the release from the school also spoke of other revenue streams that have evaporated. 

“It’s a worst-case scenario,” said the school’s press release, but suspending the programs now softens the blow in a lot of ways. Student-athletes will still be able to receive their Athletic Financial Awards, in part because the money will not go to funding the sporting activities, but rather supporting the students. This was a sentiment shared by the university in their press release, as they continue to uphold the commitment of Canada West from the previous fall sport cancellation announcement. Not all athletes have scholarships, so this does not help everyone, but the university has committed to helping those athletes out further. 

While cancelling their two-semester sports now allows them to allocate money differently, it also makes an uncertain future a little clearer for both student-athletes and conference schedule makers, who are looking to return in 2021.

The decision to suspend the three programs for the year was tough to make for the school, but it was tougher to see for athletes formerly involved with the Lethbridge Pronghorns hockey programs. The Pronghorns axed their men’s and women’s hockey programs back in May, with no plan for a return, while citing similar budget cuts to Alberta. The Pronghorns will not be able to rejoin U SPORTS for two years if they are to make that decision, whereas Alberta is able to reserve funding until Covid-19 passes over and academic/athletic life returns to a type of normal. Alberta is a bigger school than Lethbridge, however, the Pronghorns continue to draw the ire of the public.

Canada West released a statement on Alberta’s decision, saying “Canada West was disheartened to learn of the University of Alberta’s decision not to compete in the sports of basketball, volleyball, and hockey during the upcoming 2020-21 season,” before expanding on the fact that they realize how hard schools are hit by Covid-19 and other budget cuts. 

Wednesday’s announcement came nine days after the cancellation of fall sports but was still unexpected by many. The Golden Bears/Pandas hockey programs have been some of the best; the women won Canada West in 2019-20, and the men have won 16 U SPORTS championships. 

Golden Bears with the 2018 U CUP (The Canadian Press)

Although there is no certainty of a season for the three sports, there could be a concern that the school could lose some of its top athletes. The decision for the three sports seasons will be made on Oct.8, roughly one month after the resumption of classes. Athletes could gamble and transfer to another school before then, but the uncertainty of the future makes this a murky proposition. 

It is disheartening for anyone involved in Canadian university sport to see a large program such as Alberta be hit so hard, but it is one that could be expected, the concern now is who else, and will these schools return in 2021-22.

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