The Ontario Colligate Athletics Association (OCAA) and Ontario University Athletics (OUA) made the decision to cancel athletics for the 2021 winter semester on Oct. 15. It was the right call.
With COVID-19 cases rising to above 700 per day in October, and more restrictions being added from sports regulatory bodies across Ontario hindering a potential return to play, it just was not possible to allow student-athletes to play the sports they love without risking infection.
This summer, sports leagues showed the power of a bubble when it comes to returning to sports, but that type of structure just isn’t possible with the budgets of both conferences being decimated by the pandemic.
Some schools are using student fees to cover the cost of the scholarships of student-athletes, some schools, like Carleton, have slashed student fees for athletics for the fall and winter semesters. Both conferences are almost entirely funded by student fees, that makes it hard to imagine much being left over to fund a bubble.
A quick glance to the south shows that without a bubble, winter sports are a risk for our student-athletes.
In New Hampshire, U.S., all hockey-related activity has been paused for two weeks after 158 people involved with the sport tested positive over the last two months, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention are warning that due to hockey’s indoor nature, and the plexiglass surrounding the rink leading to poor ventilation, that hockey games could become super spreader events.
That doesn’t sound like something we should be putting our student-athletes through, especially with the unknown long-term effects of the disease.
We will likely need an effective vaccine for COVID-19 before we see athletics return to campuses across Ontario. Exhibition games are an option for schools in both conferences this time around and would be a way to get student athletes some experience, if the conferences are careful and take the right precautions – such as testing and social distancing – to make it happen.
People often forget student-athletes are students as well as athletes.
Announcing the decision to ice athletics in the winter semester allows students to make an informed decision about what they’re going to be doing with their education and living arrangements. This is a fair decision from both conferences that should be applauded.
If the announcement had been pushed off for longer, some student-athletes in the OUA and OCAA could’ve been stuck somewhere without help. Being given the option to return home if they’re not playing is the least the conferences could do.
Canceling winter athletics was a difficult decision for both conferences, but an understandable one, and it was the only decision that would keep student-athletes safe.
At the end of the day, this was the right play.