'Planning for uncertainty': Canada West sports moving forward without the University of Alberta
WINNIPEG -- As Canada West plans its condensed seasons for hockey, basketball, and volleyball for women and men, it will be doing so without the University of Alberta.
“I know how hard Alberta has worked to try and make this a go for 2020-21,” Canada West’s managing director, Rocky Olfert told CTV News.
"You certainly feel bad for the coaches and the student-athletes, you know this impacts them the most.”
Wednesday’s announcement from the U of A comes a week after Canada West announced the cancellation of its fall term, team sports seasons including football and soccer.
With one of its biggest schools cancelling the season for its other major programs, it raises the question: will other Canada West members follow suit?
“I can see it happening,” said University of Winnipeg Athletic Director, Dave Crook.
“Canada West has created a system where it’s easy for schools not to play this year for financial reasons if that’s a roadblock for those schools.”
Programs do have the option to take a year off without additional penalties due to unforeseen circumstances, such as financial struggles from the COVID-19pandemic. So, conference officials are preparing for the unexpected.
“If others decide to do the same, given the financial realities of COVID, plus other financial impacts of not having the opportunity to fundraise over the summer, we’ll work with them and do our best to support them through this time,” Olfert said.
Canada West said based on its daily conversations with its 17 members, it does not expect any other schools to take such drastic measures-- at least not yet.
With its members spanning across four provinces, Olfert said each school is dealing with unique circumstances when it comes to dealing with local and provincial health guidelines and levels of funding.
Crook says he’s been in contact with the University of Alberta’s athletic director and believes the situation in that province is much more dire than any other Canada West jurisdiction.
“Not only the University of Alberta, but all the Alberta schools are under some real financial hardship right now with the budget passed by the Alberta government, so I don’t know what’s going to happen with all those Alberta schools.” He said.
Crook says as of now, the Wesmen winter sports teams are planning to forego a shortened season assuming Canada West goes ahead with one but says a number of factors still need to be determined including whether the national governing body, U SPORTS, will go ahead with national championships, and other issues related to eligibility and the students’ desire to use a year for a shortened season.
Meanwhile, there is less certainty over at the University of Manitoba. Athletic Director, Gene Muller, says it’s funding model – which is dependent on revenue generated by its athletics department, a portion of student fees and summer fundraising – has taken a hit.
This makes the economic impact harder to overcome. Bisons Athletics has already laid off about two-thirds of its staff, Muller said, adding the school is not sure just how bad it will be.
“I’m trying to remain optimistic as the province opens,” said Muller. “but the pace of reopening and the pace of changes still leaves us with many more questions so, being optimistic but still knowing we are planning for many scenarios and we’re planning for uncertainty.”
Canada West says it has task forces set up in all of its jurisdictions to navigate the different public health guidelines, provincial reopenings, and financial downfalls.
It says it fully intends to move ahead with the hockey, basketball and volleyball seasons for both men and women, in January only if it is safe to do so. A final decision is not expected to be reached until October.