June 13, 2020

College and University Athletics Cancelled until December 31st 2020 by Daniel Scarpino

The Ontario University Athletics Association (OUA) & Ontario College Athletics Association (OCAA) have formally announced that they are cancelling all sporting activities until the start of 2021.

That means all fall sports are either cancelled outright or at least postponed. There are several implications for these cancellations, none greater than the health and well being of student-athletes, coaching staffs, and all university/college athletics personnel, of course. That
said, it’s important that we dive into and take a look at the ramifications that these decisions will inevitably cause.

First and foremost, the reality that sports will be suspended at the university & college level until the end of the calendar year is a loose date, to put it best. There’s no real way of knowing if sports will resume in let’s say, January of 2021. It could be longer than that. By longer, you’d hate to be pessimistic but, could we potentially see the end of university & college athletics for the entire 2020-2021 season? For the optimists and hopefuls in the room, we’d hope not; however, we must consider this as being a reality. If so, the financial burden that this puts on schools, athletic departments, and those who are financially compensated as it pertains to athletics could be quite difficult.

Secondly, we must see varsity athletics, in large part, as a brand. Incidentally, brands are there to make money. While we enjoy the spectacle of the sports that are offered at the varsity level, it is because of the quality that these brands present that allow them to be profitable. Amongst top
quality athletes, well revered coaches, and impeccable facilities, what’s generated at the varsity level for the OUA and OCAA is something much bigger. In fact, the names alone are big enough to be widely recognized at the national level. When something that we are so accustomed to
seeing on a yearly basis is now put on pause, indefinitely, it really sets us back. Think about the set-back that it will impose on various colleges and universities, if nothing else and even if only temporary.

Third, we cannot ignore the burden that this will place on recruitment. Whilst it would be illogical to put this above the general health of anyone in our nation, all workplaces are facing the dire question of, ‘What happens next?’. When it comes to athletics, recruitment is one of the staples
for which the organization/brand flourishes. Having the right people involved is what makes ‘sport’ the spectacle that it is. Now, because coaches are not going to have those face-to-face interactions that they desire, recruitment is going to shift to technology. In large part, coaches
will have to rely heavily on video and perhaps phone calls/Skype. This, almost entirely, will be different from the typical recruiting trail that coaching staffs are used to. The motto of ‘Pound the Pavement’ has been dismantled, really. The cancellation of sports is going to change the face of
recruiting, at least for one year/season. Does that throw teams for a loop? In fact, it does. Maybe not so much for larger, dominant programs but, for schools who fall into the category of a ‘rebuild’ or are just a smaller program altogether, this is worrisome. Not to mention, coaches who have just come in this year or in the past year or two, this has to be even more troubling than ‘starting from square one’. We largely focus on bigger programs because, well, those are the ones who are representing brands such as the OUA or OCAA at the end of their seasons but, it’s the smaller programs that also must be accounted for as being the ‘parts’ that make up the ‘sum’.

Furthermore, we see a major consideration of fitting in various seasons in the spring. However, we would be remiss to not mention the implications that come along with that, although it sounds good on the surface. There are a couple of issues that could evolve if fall sports take place in the spring. First, we could potentially see an overlap of indoor sports finishing and
outdoor sports starting. Second, weather is going to be an obvious point of conflict as we have no real way of knowing what the months of March & April will hold. Third, keeping students at the university or college that they attend in order to complete the seasons would almost 100%
go until May. What arises from that is the obvious issue of students returning home once the semester is complete. Fourth, if all classes (for both terms) are moved to online, students who play sports may not even be in the same city that they go to school (for example, a student who
lives in Sudbury taking online classes at Guelph would not necessarily be subject to being in the city that they are enrolled in for college/university). Fifth, the idea surrounding a condensed season would almost be certain in order to fit in the necessary championships. The problem that arises with this is that the standings won’t be a true reflection of who the best team is given the fact that not all the necessary/regular games would have been played. Finally, the idea of crowning a national champion might be null and void if all conferences are not on the same page. Given the window/time frame to coordinate this, it will be more difficult than it will be
simple.

There is an obvious issue with playing eligibility. If varsity sports do not happen whatsoever, players risk losing an entire year of their playing eligibility, depending on how the OUA & OCAA warrant the term ‘eligibility’. This could potentially cause uproar amongst athletes and coaches.
Those who are in their graduation year wouldn’t have the chance to fulfill their final year of eligibility. Players returning for a 5th year could have otherwise been seeking work or a graduate studies/masters studies program. And, all other athletes in years 1-3 would simply be robbed of
an entire season. All of these issues almost tip on the side of ‘ethics’. The question would become, ‘How can we ensure that varsity athletes aren’t deprived of playing eligibility given that the decision to cancel the season is beyond their control?’. If anything, this issue needs to be rectified and a solution must be presented before school commences in September so that
athletes can decide if they will defer the year in order to save their eligibility for when sports resume.

One thing that might be slightly under looked are potential leave of absences. This would be from coaches and various athletic personnel. Especially for those who are compensated entirely by their institution, the point that prefaced this article of ‘implications’ would ultimately turn
financial, and not in a particularly positive way. If staff are furloughed, that’s one thing. If staff are let go, that’s another. If nothing can be managed/worked out, there will be a lot of unhappy people who will take leave of absences or potentially worse, drop out and perhaps not return. The academic component for athletes is a matter that will certainly will be placed in the highest regard by academic institutions. If nothing is resolved quickly by governing bodies as it pertains to sports, the academic side of things will ensure that students remain on track to fulfill their requirements for their respective degrees. Again, what we could see, which directly ties in with academics, is student-athletes deferring the year and returning for the fall 2021 season if nothing is worked out on the sporting side.

The worst possible scenario is that those who need the announcements most will be left in the dark. That worst possible scenario is not one that we expect but, it’s still a worry nonetheless.
Granted, what isn’t a worry in these times? We have never really lived in a moment where we didn’t know what was going to happen next. It seems that the unexpected is revolving and coming full-circle on an almost weekly basis. What cannot happen is someone or something
overstepping various boundaries which would jeopardize the people involved in varsity athletics. These amazing organizations that we know as the OUA and OCAA will do a remarkable job in ensuring that things are monitored closely and that everyone involved are well taken care of.
What we all hope, beyond the fact that we wish to see sports at the varsity level soon, is that our questions get answered quickly and professionally. In these times, our thoughts go out to all involved in the OUA and OCAA who are dealing with difficult decisions that are, in this moment, unparalleled and unprecedented. These are the scenarios, the situations, and the realities that we, as the wider sporting community, must all consider. ‘When’ will become the base of our inquiries for the foreseeable future.

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