Finances force University of Alberta to suspend operation of 6 teams for upcoming season

The decision affects the hockey, basketball and volleyball teams for the Golden Bears and the Pandas.

Decision affects men's and women's hockey, basketball and volleyball teams

University of Alberta Golden Bears guard Tyus Jefferson covers his face with a towel in the last minutes of quarterfinal U Sports basketball action in March 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The University of Alberta won't be fielding teams in hockey, basketball and volleyball teams for the upcoming season, citing a series of financial events that has the university scrambling to balance its budget.

The decision, announced Tuesday by Ian Reade, athletic director for Golden Bears and Pandas Athletics, affects the men's and women's hockey, basketball and volleyball teams.

Financial disruption, ranging from government cuts to impacts from the pandemic, "has produced a worst-case scenario for University of Alberta varsity sport," Reade said in a news release.

"This scenario has brought most of our diverse revenue streams to a complete halt, and the Athletics budget is no longer able to support participation for the 2020/2021 season," he said.

"While this is an extremely hard decision for us, it is in the best interest of the student-athletes that we make this decision now so their future is somewhat more clear."

Earlier this year, the provincial government announced cuts to the Campus Alberta Grant and ordered universities to immediately begin balancing their budgets and reducing expenditures.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a ripple effect on revenues.

As a result of courses moving to online delivery, the U of A waived its Athletics and Recreation fee during the spring and summer sessions and will reduce it for the fall session by 30 per cent, to about $90 for a full-time student.

Most competition already cancelled

Wednesday's announcement came nine days after U Sports announced that no competition would occur in football, men's and women's soccer, women's rugby 15s and women's field hockey during the first term of the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic.

Canada West had said it would make a decision no later than Oct. 8 on whether competition for hockey, basketball and volleyball would begin after Jan. 1, 2021.

The university said it has informed the Canada West conference of the decision so the league can move forward with the schedule creation process.

Reade said the University of Alberta will "remain committed" to student-athletes receiving athletic financial assistance and to hosting the 2021 national wrestling championship.

The Golden Bears have won the most national men's hockey championships in the tournament's history with 16.

Golden Bears captain Riley Keiser celebrates after the hockey team won the U Sports University Cup in 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

"Canada West was disheartened to learn of the University of Alberta's decision not to compete in the sports of basketball, volleyball, and hockey during the upcoming 2020-21 season," the conference said in a statement.

"At the same time, Canada West fully understands the difficult financial position many of our members currently find themselves in.

"University sport continues to be negatively impacted financially as a result of COVID-19, which has reduced or eliminated athletic and recreation fees, cut into fundraising efforts, and has been compounded by overall budget cuts to many post-secondary institutions."

The University of Lethbridge announced in April it was axing men's and women's hockey permanently for budgetary reasons.

U Sports cancelled fall national championships earlier this month because of the virus, including football's Vanier Cup, women's rugby and field hockey and the men's and women's soccer and cross-country championships.

The Ontario and Atlantic conferences both cancelled all varsity sport for the rest of 2020.