Vanier Cup among national U Sports championships cancelled because of COVID-19 pandemic
Programs at 56 schools with nearly 20,000 student athletes are affected
Canadian university sport fall national championships are being cancelled in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
U Sports announced Monday it is cancelling the women's field hockey, men's and women's cross-country running, men's and women's soccer, women's rugby, and football championships, including the national semifinals (the Mitchell and Uteck Bowls) and the Vanier Cup.
The hosts of the cancelled fall 2020 national championships will have the opportunity to host in future years.
"The peak for student athletes are the national championships. I'm very saddened. I'm saddened for the student athletes and coaches," Lisette Johnson-Stapley, chief sport officer for U Sports, told CBC Sports.
One of the most prominent sports affected is the men's football season and its championship game, the Vanier Cup, originally scheduled for November. It will be the first time the game has not been contested since it began in 1965.
"It's no secret it's one of our most prestigious championships. That was a tough decision but made with the guidance of medical experts weighing in," Johnson-Stapley said. "Students are planning right now. We needed to do this now. It was the right time to get them advance notice."
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Josiah Joseph, quarterback for the University of Calgary Dinos, the defending Vanier Cup champions, called it "pretty devastating news."
While U Sports has cancelled the national championships, it's up to the four conferences across the country to decide how they want to move forward with their regular seasons and conference championships.
The Atlantic and Ontario conferences announced Monday that all varsity sport will shut down for the remainder of 2020. Canada West will not operate team sports for the rest of the calendar year, and will make a decision on golf, cross-country and swimming by July 15.
There are 56 U Sports schools in Canada with nearly 20,000 student athletes competing. The schools are organized into four conferences — the Atlantic University Sport Conference (AUS), Canada West Conference (CW), Ontario University Athletics Conference (OUA) and the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ).
"As far as conference play, that's in their jurisdiction to make those decisions," Johnson-Stapley said.
Johnson-Stapley said U Sports made the decision to cancel all of the fall national championships based on the guidance of a number of different committees including regional representation, presidents of universities and medical experts.
Eligibility a question mark
The fall cancellations mean the winter calendar is likely to be affected, with officials already hinting at shortening the hockey and basketball seasons.
"We've addressed it somewhat but no decisions made yet," Johnson-Stapley said. "It's still too early. We still have to wait a while and see what happens."
Canada West president Clint Hamilton said if there is no vaccine and physical distancing rules remain in place "it's going to be hard to envision us playing a January to March season."
And while so many question marks surround the upcoming U Sports calendar throughout the entire year, the focus is quickly shifting to how student eligibility will be impacted.
"Eligibility is another big piece of it and why we came out now with this decision today," Johnson-Stapley said. "There are a few pieces of eligibility that we've addressed right now, but as you can imagine it's a lot of work. We won't be charging eligibility for this upcoming season because of not being able to have national championships. We're working on it bit by bit."
What that exactly means for athletes entering their final year is still being decided.
"Specifically on the fifth years, that has to be discussed further," Johnson-Stapley said.
The majority of last season's U Sports calendar was completed. However, the men's and women's Canadian university hockey championships were in the midst of competition when U Sports cancelled both tournaments on March 12, a day after the global pandemic was declared.
Also Monday, the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association announced it was suspending inter-collegiate sports for the fall semester at its 27 member schools. Sports affected are baseball, softball, rugby, rugby sevens, outdoor soccer, golf and cross-country running.
With files from Signa Butler, CBC Sports, Canadian Press