Halifax, N.S.- The AUS will not sanction a winter season or any conference championships for the 2020-2021 season.
After an Oct. 15 announcement of the development of a Return-To-Play Committee, and thus a spark of optimism, the AUS was faced with challenges in the last couple of weeks. Those include delayed responses from the four provinces regarding their return to play plan and, of course, case spikes in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in the last couple of weeks.
AUS Executive Director Phil Currie cited immediate COVID-19 concerns in Atlantic Canada in the statement announcing the decision released Wednesday afternoon.
“We had hoped to be able to…see some semblance of a regular season and postseason take place, [but] given the current realities in many of our regions, and evolving public health directives, this won’t be possible,” Currie said.
The AUS said, however, they would allow member-driven competition in the winter semester. Each school would participate at a “level they are comfortable with, and would likely see the teams involved face opponents they are in closer proximity to geographically,” the statement said.
Currie added in the release that the safety of student-athletes, campuses and surrounding communities is the AUS’s top priority and would hold out of sanctioned competition based on that.
“But the AUS is in the business of delivering sport opportunities to young people. Our member universitites intend to provide those opportunities so long as experts deem it safe to do so,” Currie said.
Dalhousie Tigers Athletic Director Tim Maloney said the announcement wasn’t surprising due to the recent outbreaks, which included 37 cases of COVID-19 announced in Nova Scotia on Tuesday. That was the highest single-day jump since April.
“It was the right decision and a responsible one,” Maloney said. “We can still be optimistic that our student-athletes can compete in the new year if health authorities allow it. We will make the most of what we have in the new year, just like we have done in the fall.”
“We are disappointed for our student-athletes and stakeholders that regular seasons and championships won’t be possible this winter,” John Richard, AUS president and University of New Brunswick athletic director, said in the statement. “But we acknowledge and respect the current realities and the steps being taken by those in leadership positions to keep everyone safe.”
Although the return to play plan developed in the past month couldn’t secure sanctioned competition in winter 2021, Peter Ricketts, the AUS board of directors’ chair, said the board was “extremely impressed” with the plan brought forward by the Return-To-Play Committee.
“But, given the state of the pandemic in our region and having the health and safety of our student-athletes first and foremost in our minds, we could not see our way to endorsing a return to conference competition play at this time or in the near future,” Ricketts said in the statement.
The Return-To-Play Committee developed a series of guidelines that would be mandated had a sanctioned season been approved, but will likely be followed if teams take part in exhibition competition. The guidelines include measures for participants and facilities, travel considerations, risk mitigation plans and contingency plans. These weren’t elaborated on any further in the release.
The AUS statement added that, according to the return to play plan, the most current public health directives will “always determine the approach, and that any planned competition may be altered or cancelled in the event of a new or worsening outbreak of COVID-19.”
The AUS becomes the third U SPORTS conference to call off a sanctioned season, after the OUA and Canada West. RSEQ competition is suspended until at least Jan. 15.