University student-athletes from Airdrie were left reeling when U SPORTS officials announced June 8 that its national championships for the 2020 fall season would be cancelled.
“Although the Canadian sport system is working together to create evidence-based return to training, practice and competition protocols, it is not currently feasible or safe due to the COVID-19 pandemic for U SPORTS to be able to offer fall championships given the academic realities of student-sport,” said Dr. Taryn Taylor, U SPORTS' chief medical officer, in a statement. “We continue to work with public health officials across the country to examine possibilities for return to play for the winter 2021 term.”
U SPORTS is the national governing body of university athletics in Canada and oversees roughly 20,000 student-athletes at 56 universities. The cancellations apply to the national championships for football, soccer, field hockey, rugby and cross-country running. Championships for these five sports take place in the fall semester.
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Football player Bennett Thomson is among the Airdronians impacted by the cancellations. Thomson, a member of the McMaster University Marauders in Hamilton, Ont., said although the news was not surprising, it was still a tough pill to swallow.
“They released that announcement...that they cancelled the [Ontario conference’s] season as well, so that’s disappointing, to say the least,” said the 23-year-old, who played for the George McDougall Mustangs and Airdrie Raiders prior to his university football career.
This season would have marked Thomson’s third year with the Marauders. Previously, he played for the University of Calgary Dinos in 2015 and spent two seasons playing competitive junior football with the Calgary Colts.
While he will still have a year of eligibility left in 2021, Thomson said the loss of the 2020 season will be a hard hit to take – both for himself and fourth- and fifth-year members of his team that were set to play their final seasons this fall.
“Anytime you’re told you can’t play the sport you love, it sucks,” he said. “But I really feel for the guys [for whom] this year would have been their last year, whether it’s due to eligibility or age. Some players will be graduating next year, whether they want to come back in 2021 or not, even if they have eligibility.”
For 20-year-old Dakota McKay, the cancellation could not have come at a more disappointing time. After red-shirting his first two years of university, the former Bert Church Chargers player was set to crack the University of Alberta's game-day roster for the first time in 2020.
“On a personal level, I was supposed to play this year, and our team is really good as well, so it was a disappointment, really,“ he said. “You work all off-season to get ready to play, and if there's nothing to look forward to, it's hard to [stay motivated] with workouts during the summer.
“It's a bit of a slap to the face because I have to wait another year before I get on the field, but it is what it is. Obviously, you can't do anything about it.“
Another Airdrie football player impacted by the cancellations is 18-year-old Blaise Newberry, who had signed his letter of intent to join the Dinos this fall.
“I was definitely shocked,” the Bert Church High School senior said. “I didn’t think it would come to that. I knew there were going to be accommodations for what is going on, but I definitely didn’t think we were going to be shut out completely like that. I was definitely shocked, and I definitely had to think about it for a bit.”
According to U SPORTS, athletes will not be charged a year of eligibility for the cancelled season and there will be no changes to scholarship regulations for the 2020-21 school year.
With no official season to train for, Thomson said much is up in the air regarding what university football players will do this fall.
“We don’t know what will be allowed and not allowed by the government or the school,” he said. “This is unprecedented territory, so no one really knows what the future holds now.
“Hopefully, they’ll allow us to at least have team activities of some sort, depending on what the government regulations are in terms of training, gyms being open and being in groups.”
Newberry said he aims to continue training regularly on his own, despite the cancelled season. He added the cancellation will offer the opportunity to continue working out, but also focus on other endeavours.
“I don’t think it really changes anything in terms of my work ethic,” he said. “I want to get a job, keep working out and still do football with some of my future Dinos teammates. It doesn’t really affect me personally, but my schedule. I think now, the best thing I can do is focus on working out, getting faster, stronger and more explosive – and keep focusing on school.”