AUS pause: What we know so far

CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – The AUS, alike the OUA and RSEQ, will be on an extended holiday break in the wake of the omicron variant’s spread.

All competition up to and including Jan. 19 has been cancelled (with the exception of the Dalhousie Invitational swim meet on Jan. 15-16. It’s status is to be determined). The pause to the season impacts 62 games in hockey, basketball and volleyball. 

The cancellations come in light of COVID-19 case rises in all four Atlantic provinces and subsequent restrictions. Games and competitions are prohibited in all of the provinces as of Dec. 23. 

As another barrier in the way of a season comeback, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have reinstated brief isolation periods for all incoming travellers. 

Although the break has been extended to mid-January, an additional extension in the coming weeks isn’t unrealistic, especially with cases expected to compound further over the holidays. 

As AUS executive director Phil Currie said, however, it’s too early to tell how things will pan out in a month’s time, given the omicron situation has escalated so rapidly.

“It’s impact on student-athletes is the biggest concern for us. It’s not only from the fact they’re not doing the physical part of what they do but the mental part as well. This news is not great for helping them cope and get through [this wave],” he said to 49 SPORTS on Thursday. “The good news is we have had competition and all our efforts will be going to getting back to competition.”

It may not look good for virus activity over the next bit but there are a few reasons to be optimistic. Currie said there has been discussion between the provinces and some AUS athletic departments around sport-related exemptions from public health restrictions when competitions are suspended in a province. 

Examples of sport-related exemptions include New Brunswick and P.E.I.’s ban on sports competition except for QMJHL or Maritime Junior Hockey League (MHL) play. 

“I believe they would provide us with an opportunity to play when you look at our recent track record. [Teams] had no incidents whatsoever this year,” Currie said in regards to working out a potential plan with the provinces.

He added the provinces have discussed among themselves the possibility of a future AUS exemption from local sport gathering limits or even isolation requirements. However, there’s still a long way to go on that front yet and the sense is these discussions have subsided until January. 

Earlier this week, the OUA and RSEQ announced similar pauses to their schedules into January. Sources tell 49 Sports that Canada West is working towards a plan that will allow them to play.

At this point, no AUS championships have been impacted by the season pause. The first championships of the winter season are the swimming championships from Feb. 11-13 (at Memorial, currently facing isolation restrictions), with hockey playoffs commencing at roughly the same time. Currie said additional cancellations of games “within about two or three weeks” of playoffs beginning could lead to potential changes in playoff schedules or formats. 

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the U SPORTS championships being hosted by AUS schools in the winter: track and field at UNB (in Saint John) from Mar. 10-12, men’s hockey at Acadia (in Halifax) from Mar. 17-20 and women’s hockey at UPEI from Mar. 24-27. With different postponements coming in different conferences, however, it’s unlikely the conferences and U SPORTS start looking at championship contingency plans until it’s seen what the virus situation is later in January, at the earliest.

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