U Sports grapples with how to play with no student-athletes in class

U Sports grapples with how to play with no student-athletes in class

Josiah Joseph is prepared to live a monk’s life to quarterback the University of Calgary Dinos this year.

Canadian universities are rolling out plans to restrict student access to campuses and increase online learning for the fall semester in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

But what does that mean for the roughly 20,000 student-athletes at U Sport’s 56 schools across Canada?

They need to be in the gym and on the field, in physical contact with teammates and opponents, to pursue their sports.

“If U of C is kind of shut down for the fall and we’re in online courses, maybe we put the players in a residence, maybe sign contracts and restrict outside access to prevent the spread,” Joseph mused.

“It would take a lot of individuals to buy in and kind of seclude themselves for the sake of a football season.”

The pivot from Peachland, B.C., says he’s willing to do that to play his fifth and final year of eligibility, and pursue a second straight Vanier Cup.

The U Sports landscape will likely be uneven in 2020-21 as each Canadian university grapples with the public health situation in their respective jurisdictions and the financial impact of the pandemic.

U Sports is also a major employer of coaches with about 900 from coast to coast.

Canadian university athletics is largely funded by student fees, ticket sales, sponsorships, facility rentals and summer camps. All face reductions because of the pandemic.

“Everyone’s been impacted financially. What that is, I don’t think we’re aware yet,” U Sports chief sport officer Lisette Johnson Stapley said.

“What if some institutions choose not to have on-campus activities, so then they don’t have sports but other institutions do?

“What if one conference chooses to not go to a national championship, but the other three are going to go?”

Canada West, the largest geographic conference encompassing the four western provinces, has announced competition modifications for next season.

The football schedule will be reduced from eight regular-season games to five. In other sports, schools will compete against others within their province or geographical area.

“It means B.C. schools will be playing each other predominantly in sports like volleyball, basketball and soccer where there’s a large threshold of teams,” Canada West president Clint Hamilton said.

“We’ll be limiting air travel as much as possible for hockey and football. To be clear, they are formats for one season. Our intent was to relieve financial pressure on members.”

The changes could save each Canada West school between $300,000 and $500,000, he said.

“I think it’s important to show that there’s a plan and there’s hope that this is all going to happen,” University of Manitoba football coach Brian Dobie said.

“But on the other hand, with universities declaring classes online, that poses another piece that adds to the uncertainty.

“Are we going to be able to get back on the field with a group of 90 student-athletes?”

Joseph was more relieved Canada West envisions a season than disappointed at the reduction in games.

“Our team is ready to defend the championship no matter how many games, or if we had to do it with flags on in a parking lot,” he said.

UBC basketball player Keylyn Filewich from Winnipeg took a little longer to land there emotionally.

“We kind of got word they were looking at doing in-province,” she said. ”The main attraction of Canada West, why I chose UBC, is because of the 17 teams you get to play.

“My first initial thoughts were ‘Oh, my last year is going to be completely different’ and I was kind of upset about that, but then at the same time I’m grateful they see us playing this year.”

The heads of the Atlantic, Quebec and Ontario conferences say they’re not yet ready to say under what parameters U Sports will happen next season.

“We know there’s going to be less games and less travel next year because of the budgetary impact already,” the OUA’s Gord Grace said.

“What we don’t know is, of the 20 schools, which ones are going to play their particular sports?”

Quebec has thousands more COVID-19 cases than the four western provinces combined.

While Hamilton and Grace were optimistic some form of sport will happen in their respective conferences next season, the deputy chief executive officer of Reseau du sport etudiant du Quebec (RSEQ) says the future is murkier for its eight U Sport schools.

Four of them are in the greater Montreal area hit hard by the pandemic.

“For us to say we might work on a schedule in June or we might work on a schedule in July, we can’t answer that,” Stephane Boudreau said. “It’s inconceivable for us right now.

“Right now, the question on everybody’s mind is financial. How is everybody going to survive?”

Atlantic University Sport president Phil Currie is waiting for more public-health clarity before the 11 member schools present a plan for their teams.

“There is still uncertainty with go forward restrictions,” Currie told The Canadian Press in an email. “We will not be in a position to provide any concrete plans until later this month or early June.”

While much of the 2019-20 season was complete before COVID-19 shut sport down mid-March, the national men’s and women’s hockey and volleyball championship were cancelled.

Football camps traditionally start the second week of August.

“We have the luxury of time, somewhat, not a lot, but we do have time to figure this out,” Grace said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 18, 2020.

— With files from Lori Ewing

Follow @DLSpencer10 on Twitter.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

Sports

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Kjeryn Dakin, owner of Buks and Bukwildz, poses for a photo with her plaque for Business Philanthropy Award, Photo Submitted
Sylvan Lake Business Awards show the resiliency of local business community

The business awards was held in six local restaurants on Oct. 17

The influenza vaccine will be available at no cost starting Monday in Alberta. “The more that we can avoid influenza-related tests, emergency visits and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs," says Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Hinshaw urges Albertans to get flu shot as COVID cases jump by 332

Alberta’s central zone now has 132 active COVID-19 cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council opts to not increase Fortis and ATCO franchise rates

Franchise fees are charged to utility companies for the right and access to distribute commodities

In this photo provided by Shannon Kiss, smoke from the CalWood Fire billows, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, as seen from Gunbarrel, Colo. (Shannon Kiss via AP)
‘First guys out:’ Western Canadian air tanker fleet busy despite drop in wildfires

CEO believes wildfires have become more dangerous in recent years as people live closer to where they start

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Executive Director of Agape Kate Halas (left) receives $1000 from Sgt. Eric Christensen (right) on behalf of Agape. Photo/ Shaela Dansereau.
Former Wetaskiwin Peace Officer wins provincial award; gives back to Wetaskiwin community

Eric Christensen has won the Alberta Association of Community Peace Officers Award of Excellence.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Employee Sophia Lovink shows off a bag of merchandise in Toronto on Thursday, June 11, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Canada gets C-average grade on 2nd year of cannabis legalization

Cannabis Council of Canada releases report card on federal government and legalization

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada-USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. Restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States are being extended until at least Nov. 21. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
Non-essential travel restrictions at Canada-U.S. border extended to at least Nov. 21

The restrictions do not apply to those providing essential services in either country

(The Canadian Perss)
Banff wolves have lower survival rate due to hunting, trapping outside park boundary

Researchers looked at 72 radio-collared wolves in the national park from 1987 to August 2019

Most Read