Red Deer’s Isabel St. Pierre had it all mapped out until Monday’s news threw her plans out of whack.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing problems throughout Canada, U Sports, which oversees university athletic competition, decided to cancel the fall sports season. That included football, women’s and men’s rugby, cross country and field hockey.
“Taking into account the academic realities of university sport, we arrived at a point where a tough decision had to be made,” said Lisette Johnson-Stapley, U SPORTS Chief Sport Officer in a press release Monday.
For St. Pierre, heading into her fifth year at the University of British Columbia, this was to be her last representing the Thunderbirds on the rugby pitch. After taking a trip to the U Sports National Championship with UBC last season, any chance of a Canada West title repeat has been dashed.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said St. Pierre, who plans on finishing her science degree in December.
“We were really looking forward to building off last year. We had a team meeting after they made the announcement. Everyone looked down and sad. We have so many new recruits coming, all of us were looking forward to having a really big squad.”
Josh Campbell, a second-year receiver on the McGill University Football team had big plans for this season. Although the former Lindsay Thurber Raiders quarterback understands the decision and somewhat expected it, it’s still tough to take.
“We were kind of starting to expect it… it’s nice that they are not taking away a year of eligibility. That’s a positive but still not the ideal situation,” he said.
“Everybody in the football community wants to play. It’s unfortunate this had to happen.”
Campbell wasn’t the only local product set to suit up on the gridiron. Kade Smith, a second-year linebacker at Mount Allison said it simply sucks to imagine the fall without football.
Smith missed most of last season with an injury and was hungry to make a comeback this year. He said along with a number of teammates, they’ll be more motivated when football does return.
“A lot of our lives revolve around football, hearing that you’re not going to get it a season, it does hurt,” he said.
“It motivates a lot of the players, especially on my team. A lot of those guys, football is the only reason we’re at a school and getting that post-secondary education.”
Closer to home nearly a dozen players were set to suit up during Canada West football season, most of them split between the University of Alberta Golden Bears and the University of Calgary Dinos.
The difficulty with U Sports competition, particularly in the Canada West is cross-provincial border travel. With different COVID-19 regulations in place between B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, it would have been tough for a league to make safe travel between each work.
Considering the championships of each sport brings schools across the country together, the organization said it was in the best interest of athletes to cancel the first-semester of sports.
Originally, U Sports and the Canada West had put together a condensed schedule for football, with less travel and more regional competition. With the pandemic not quite slowing in some places as quickly as others, that became impossible.
Many universities are also set for purely online classes in the fall, another wrinkle in the difficultly of sports returning.
“Although the Canadian sport system is working together to create evidence-based return to training, practice and competition protocols, it is not currently feasible or safe due to the COVID-19 Pandemic for U SPORTS to be able to offer fall championships given the academic realities of student-sport,” said Dr. Taryn Taylor, U SPORTS Chief Medical Officer and representative on the Own the Podium Return to Sport Task Force.
“We continue to work with public health officials across the country to examine possibilities for return to play for the winter 2021 term.”