Scholarships, eligibility, and other sports tidbits

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What happens to student sports scholarships during the pandemic? Digital Ralph (Flickr)

Priorities: 1A Health & Safety, 1B Money

We are nearly at the midway point of the longest year in human history. The COVID-19 pandemic has made significant alterations to our daily lives, and government, businesses, and corporations have all made their own responses as the weeks have passed by. U Sports, Canada West, and the various other governing bodies have made announcements in regards to what is happening in the upcoming season.

Canada West announced in early June that they would be cancelling 2020-2021 first term team competitions. What that essentially means is University of Regina Rams football as well as  soccer are cancelled. In roughly three weeks an announcement will be made for golf and swimming. Hockey, basketball, and volleyball are to start no earlier than January 1, 2021, and a final decision will come in the fall.

Students who have had their championships (meaning seasons) cancelled will retain their year of eligibility and retain eligibility for athletic financial awards (AFAs) or scholarships. This is an important distinction for many athletes who were concerned about losing either their scholarships or losing a year of eligibility.

To further clarify any issues, U Sports sent out a notice detailing the eligibility requirements for potentially impacted students. Clarification was made on returning students and Academic All-Canadians who may have had their grades changed to pass-fail in the Winter 2020 semester, so that they would still be eligible for AFAs. If the championships were to be cancelled for a students’ season, they will still be eligible for AFA and there will be no “consumption of eligibility.”

What was maintained for the year were the current regulations for eligibility for first-time entry students and transfer students from other jurisdictions (read: international students). The regulations regarding academic standing for the previous year were maintained, but there is still no update on whether or not that will change for the fall semester. There are a few concerns with football age caps that have yet to be decided, and we will provide you with an update as soon as possible.

The President of Canada West, Clint Hamilton, issued a statement on June 8 detailing the concerns of the body.

“While cancellation isn’t the outcome anyone associated with university sport wanted, I’m confident in the fact that this difficult decision is in the best interests of our student-athletes. Health and safety is at the forefront of everything we do and simply put there was no way to adequately ensure the safety of everyone involved in university sport during competition this fall.”

This is an interesting contrast to professional and collegiate sport in the United States, where in the past few weeks planning has been put in place to resume sports for the NBA, NHL, and NCAA football and basketball. The MLB is dragging on a gruesome negotiation with the MLBPA and will likely have a mandated season by virtue of the commissioner Rob Manfred forcing everyone into a 50-ish game schedule, while the NFL is just now realizing they should make some plans instead of going full steam ahead.

The NCAA football and basketball programs announced mandatory practices will resume in July and transition athletes into shape for a full Fall 2020 season. Canada West has given decision-making power to each of their universities, all of which had a vote in the handling of the cancellation of the fall 2020 season. Universities will also devise guidelines for return to training that follow each provincial health authority.

According to a source, the universities are “working closely with each other” and their respective governments to make the best decisions possible. “The students’ health and safety is our number one priority and there are complications that make handling these situations more difficult. It is not as simple as taking the recommendations regarding gatherings of 30 people and making decisions based on those numbers.”

Complicated indeed, one can logically assume that beginning sports in Regina or Saskatchewan has to be much safer than anywhere in Florida, but if Canada West is taking direction from each of its universities and the U or R and U of S don’t just play against one another, there is a give and take that has to be kept in mind. There are 17 different teams and each one of them has to balance the federal and provincial guidelines, the continuously updated COVID-19 numbers and provincial re-opening guidelines that vary in each province.

U Sports is working on a variety of scenarios and the implications for the various scenarios such as the CFL draft, football age caps, transfer penalties, and winter 2021 sports. The benefit of delaying, giving time to examine each model and their relevant consequences, will help inform guidelines going forward. For example, if all four major sports and college sports in the US resume, U Sports and each conference will have an abundance of data to help inform their precautionary measures. Further, because conferences can make decisions separate to one another and U Sports, there could be a chance that Canada West or Atlantic University Sports is able to go forward before one of the other conferences, due to varying re-open phases.

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