With the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) announcing the cancellation of winter sports on campuses across Ontario, it may seem like déjà vu for student-athletes but there’s one key difference this time around.
The universities will be given the chance to explore exhibition games, something that was not allowed during the July cancellation of the fall semester.
“We think that there’s going to be some basketball games, some hockey games going to be played locally, within a region, in a safe environment and that student-athletes will get some experience that way,” says OUA president and CEO, Gord Grace.
Exhibition play is something that we may see on campus if the conditions allow for it.
“Ontario Tech will absolutely be exploring exhibition or scrimmages if we’re permitted and it can be organized as safe for all involved,” says Ontario Tech athletic director, Scott Barker.
For Barker, safety of their athletes is at the forefront any discussion regarding return to play, but there are several positives in his mind, when it comes to exhibition games.
“Sport is a large part of our lives and is very important to the physical and mental well-being of our athletes, coaches and community,” says Barker. “If we can be leaders in any way to help return sport safely then that is certainly something we will be a part of.”
Even with exhibition games on the table, Grace says a full return to conference athletics is “pretty remote.
“We’ll keep those doors open,” says Grace. “If there’s a window of time where we might be able to do something, we might look at it.”
But, if the OUA waits until after (final) exams, Grace says they may run into another set of problems when returning to conference play.
“We’re not so sure students are willing to wait around after exams, after essentially being online all year…I don’t see that as really working out,” says Grace.
The decision to cancel athletics was made by the OUA’s board of directors Oct. 15 but they ultimately consulted with all 20 schools in the conference and medical advisors before scrapping plans for a return.
“When we made the decision in fall (to cancel athletics) it was full speed ahead, planning for January,” says Grace. “We were hoping that there was some way that it was going to happen, but quite frankly it just got uglier by the week.”
Grace says there were a lot of factors being examined by the board, but that the “health and safety of their players” was the top priority for them.
“The fact is there are more cases today than there were when we made our first decision on July 2,” says Grace.
Also contributing to the difficulties is budgets for schools in the OUA being “decimated” by COVID-19, says Grace, pointing to the fact that fundraising, ticket revenue and in some cases, student fees have been impacted.
One of the things that haven’t been impacted is eligibility. No player will be consuming any eligibility this year, and the age limit of 25 in football that was initially a hot topic of debate in the summer, has been removed.
“We tried to do as much as we could to have a minimal impact on the students,” says Grace.