After months of uncertainty regarding the upcoming collegiate cross-country season and COVID-19, the decision to cancel fall sports was announced on Monday. U Sports—the national governing body of university athletics—made a joint decision with the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conferences to call off all sports for the remainder of 2020. Canada West cancelled all sports other than cross-country, swimming and golf, and a final decision for the latter three sports will be made by July 15. The Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) has yet to follow suit, and at least for the time being, any Quebec university sporting events will remain on hold until the end of June. In a statement announcing the sport cancellations, the U Sports team outlined the reasoning behind the decision and how athlete eligibility will be affected moving forward.
U SPORTS announced a series of decisions pertaining to sports scholarships (Athletic Financial Awards or AFAs) and eligibility for the 2020-2021 year. Additional eligibility and scholarship information will be provided in the coming weeks. pic.twitter.com/iFUi1Jv5Nd
— U SPORTS (@USPORTSca) June 8, 2020
Academic realities of university sport
Dr. Taryn Taylor is the chief medical officer of U Sports and a representative on the Own the Podium Return to Sport Task Force. She said the “Canadian sport system is working together to create evidence-based return to training, practice and competition protocols,” but these methods will not be applicable for U Sports and its student-athletes.
Many universities across Canada have already announced that the fall semester will be taught entirely online, and with many athletes competing at schools in different provinces or across the country from where they live, it’s not feasible to bring these students to campuses for training when they won’t physically be going to class.
“U Sports has been working hard with the four conferences, our 56 member institutions and medical experts to examine the feasibility of delivering the fall national championships this season,” U Sports chief sport officer Lisette Johnson-Stapley said in the cancellation statement. “Taking into account the academic realities of university sport, we arrived at a point where a tough decision had to be made.”
Dr. Taylor said U Sports will “continue to work with public health officials across the country” to decide whether a return to sport will be possible for the start of 2021. This decision won’t be finalized until the fall.
While the cancellation of the 2020 cross-country season probably wasn’t the most unexpected news of COVID-19, it will still come as a disheartening blow to university runners. Regarding eligibility, the U Sports statement says there will be “no consumption of eligibility in the event that the 2020-2021 U SPORTS championships are not offered.” However, despite having separate seasons, cross-country and track and field count as one sport under U Sports guidelines. This means that although the cross-country season is cancelled, if track and field goes ahead as planned in 2021, athletes who compete in the winter semester will use a year of eligibility just like any normal year. If track and field is also cancelled, cross and track athletes will receive an extra year of eligibility.
Full information on the updated U Sports eligibility rules can be found here.