Full season cancelled for most team sports; individual sports and curling still awaiting decisions by governing bodies
Many student athletes were left in limbo heading into this season — unsure of whether their varsity programs would go ahead amid COVID-19. U Sports and Canada West recently announced that competitions are cancelled for most team sports. Decisions on conference events for individual sports will be made later. For some senior athletes, this has extinguished any remaining hope they had of finishing off their athletic career, while for others, the anticipation continues.
On Oct. 15, U Sports, the governing body for university sports in Canada, announced they would be cancelling all nine of their winter national championships. The sports affected include hockey, swimming, wrestling, basketball, volleyball, and track and field. These cancellations come amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in many provinces, and the closure of some facilities.
Following the U Sports decision, Canada West, the conference within U Sports for schools in Western Canada, cancelled all conference regular season, playoff, and championship events in most team sports including basketball, volleyball, hockey, wrestling, and rugby sevens. These cancellations will affect both men’s and women’s varsity teams. Canada West deferred decisions on whether championships for curling, swimming, and track and field will go ahead.
There was initially hope that COVID-19 cases would decrease enough to allow for inter-conference travel and competition. However, with cases continuing to rise in some provinces, as well as restrictions on large gatherings, U Sports ultimately made the decision to cancel national competitions in team sports.
Andrea Farmer, a political science and business student entering her last year of varsity swimming, said that heading into the school year she was still hoping national competitions would go ahead.
“I was cautiously optimistic,” she said. “I thought there was still a chance that there could be something at the national level.”
Because of the high numbers of COVID-19 cases in Canada’s eastern provinces, the option to run virtual nationals for individual sports like swimming was viewed as impossible. Some facilities are closed, which would give an unfair advantage to athletes in areas where facilities remain open.
Farmer and Justin Schramm, another UVic student in his last year of swimming, agree that they are upset with how this year is turning out, but they are more concerned with those that are new to the program.
“It’s easy for Justin and I to say ‘well, it’s our last year it sucks a lot for us,’ but for people who do have other years, they did still lose the chance to peak this year,” Farmer said.
Canada West made the decision to cancel all inter-conference competition based on the recommendations of their COVID-19 task force. Canada West cited continued restrictions on travel between provinces, heightened travel costs, and rising case counts amongst university-aged Canadians.
This news comes as a blow to the roughly 20 000 U Sports student athletes across Canada, including those competing at Canada West schools.
“Without having that meet, we are going to have to look for the team congruence in other places, which will be a lot less easy than it would be if we had the nationals to all work towards,” Farmer said.
Despite the disappointment, both Farmer and Schramm are trying to remain positive for themselves and for those just starting the program.
“I think me and Andrea, and the people that this is our last year, we really have to keep morale up,” Schramm said. “This virus isn’t going to last forever, so we need to push the team through this year.”
For others, like Taylor Montgomery-Stinson, who battled back from injury to compete this season, the cancellations come as a heavy blow.
Montgomery-Stinson had been hoping to come back for his final year of eligibility with UVic’s men’s basketball team after suffering an ACL injury in the spring of 2019 that kept him out of the entire 2019-2020 season.
Just as he was nearing full recovery in March, the pandemic hit. At first he didn’t know the full extent of the virus or what it would mean for university athletics but as time went on it became apparent that more cancellations were on the horizon.
“We had actually scheduled an exhibition game against UCLA for August,” said Montgomery-Stinson. “As it kind of progressed, it became pretty clear that that wasn’t going to happen.”
The announcement by Canada West that two-term sports would not start until January at the earliest further pushed back Montgomery-Stinson’s return. By the time September rolled around, Montgomery-Stinson said he expected national championships would be cancelled, but still hoped for inter-conference play or even exhibition games against other B.C. schools.
“For the season, we kind of had a hope that we might be able to do something with the B.C. teams in some sort of B.C. league, ” he said. “But yeah, through the fall things just, they weren’t looking good.”
With the recent announcements, players on the men’s and women’s basketball, soccer, and rugby teams now know that they are unlikely to get any games in this season.
Instead of getting down, however, Montgomery-Stinson is shifting his focus to building up the culture that he is happy to have been a part of for the last five years. He also says that it is good to be able to get on the court again, even if it is only for practices.
“For me, the focus is … on trying to just get whatever I can out of this year,” he said. “Just to kind of try and grasp everything I can this season and to try to be more of a leader.”
Although he’s thought about going pro, Montgomery-Stinson wants to focus on this season and the hope that there may be some exhibition games in the spring.
“Everyone was disappointed, but we’re still holding out hope that we might be able to get a few exhibition games in next semester,” said Montgomery-Stinson. “Which would be really sweet.”
For Farmer, Schramm, Montgomery-Stinson, and many other fifth-year students, the cancellations prove a disappointing end to their university athletic careers. In the end, they are doing the best they can this season and focusing on life after university.
“I think it’s time to get ready to move on,” said Farmer.