Ordinarily, the start of each school year not only brings the excitement of new classes, but also the beginning of a fresh season of competition for student athletes. Whether it be team sports like soccer or rugby, or individual sports such as cross country, university athletics are what make up the bulk of a student athlete’s university experience. Things will be different this year, however, as student athletes have been thrown into limbo due to the cancellations. Many fourth and fifth years are now forced to contemplate a premature end to their varsity careers, while first years are being robbed of many of the elements of a classic university experience.
On June 8, Canada West — the governing body of university athletics in Western Canada — announced that first term competitions in certain sports would be cancelled due to COVID-19. U Sports also cancelled all six fall national championships. They are the national body for Canadian university athletics.
This decision wipes out the entire season for one-term sports such as soccer and rugby, and at least half of the season for hockey and basketball. On July 15, Canada West further announced that the fall cross country season would not take place. Conference championships for swimming and golf are still scheduled to go ahead, with the date still to be determined. Two-term sports will not start before Jan. 1, and a decision on whether their seasons will go forward will be made by Oct. 8.
Some athletes going into their fifth, and final, year of eligibility have extended their degrees and moved their final year of eligibility to the 2021-22 season.
Evan Libke, who plays as a defender for UVic’s men’s soccer team, is entering his fourth year at UVic. Libke is in his final year of eligibility because he spent a year playing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. With the soccer season cancelled, he was able to transfer his final year of eligibility to the start of next year. This is a path that Libke says many student athletes are taking, if their academic program allows.
“They’re going to extend their degrees and play their last season because obviously it’s been such a big part of our lives for the past five years,” said Libke in an interview with the Martlet. “Everybody kind of wants that little step of closure.”
Libke says that he feels for those who won’t have the opportunity to extend their eligibility, as well as first years who will be robbed of their initial university experience.
One of those students who won’t be able to come back for a fifth and final year is Alex Nemethy. Nemethy, a member of UVic’s men’s XC & Track Team, will be graduating with a civil engineering degree in April. He doesn’t want to postpone his degree a year in order to pursue one final year of track — especially when the rules of eligibility for sports that take place over two terms are taken into consideration.
“I find the difficult part for me though is if they cancel cross country but do allow competition to happen in January through March there… you’d lose eligibility for an entire year even though we still only get half of a season which is unfortunate,” Nemethy said.
He also expressed his disappointment at the cancellation of the cross country season. However, Nemethy hopes to train with the team in the fall and compete in track meets if those go ahead.
Both Libke and Nemthy expressed gratitude for how open and transparent their coaches and UVic Varsity Athletics have been.They credit their coaches with ensuring training goes ahead, despite the COVID-19 distancing protocols, and that most athletes have bought into the new format.
“Overall, even though it’s been a tough situation for us to have… the team has done really well,” Nemethy said. “Coaches are still sending out workouts to those of us who are out there on our own. From what I’ve seen all the athletes are still doing their training as usual, which is great.”
At the end of the day, despite their disappointment over the cancellations and the uncertainty surrounding their next steps, Libke says student athletes have been understanding. He says they understand the necessity of Canada West’s actions and that keeping athletes safe from COVID-19 takes precedence.
“Everybody has that understanding that this is a public health concern,” said Libke. “We’re willing to put our season aside for the greater good, that’s not really a big issue for us.”
This article was updated to include Canada West’s July 15 announcement regarding the fall season of golf, swimming, and cross country.