A perfect storm of provincial cuts, decreased expenditure on campus, as well as public health concerns, has created a dim outlook for the Bears and Pandas sports seasons.
The Golden Bears and Pandas sports seasons this school year are going to take on quite a different look, with some potentially going ahead in the winter while others being sidelined for the entire 2020-21 school year due to COVID-19.
As of right now, the seasons for fall sports football, soccer, and rugby have all been cancelled at the University of Alberta, a decision made earlier this summer. For two-term sports seasons such as basketball, volleyball, and hockey, there is still hope a potential shortened season could start in January, however, the U of A has already pulled out of any potential basketball and volleyball competition and cancelled the cross country running season.
A decision by Canada West, the regional membership association for university athletics in Western Canada, regarding the fate of golf, swimming, tennis, as well as hockey at U of A is slated to be made no later than October 8.
Connor Hood, the Bears and Pandas sports information and communications director, says the decision is contingent upon a variety of public health and financial factors.
“A lot of it depends on what the provincial government says, so as of last week Alberta Health Services said sporting events and people can travel outside their smaller health region for competition, however not outside the province,” Hood explained. “Hockey possibly being able to come back was mostly out of financial reasons.”
“With no students on campus paying their athletic and recreation fees, combined with the cuts that were handed down by the provincial government, it hasn’t been the best 12 months to be in Alberta university athletics program, but thankfully some alumni stepped forward from the Bears and Pandas hockey programs to try and salvage some sort of a potential season,” he added.
Pandas Hockey head coach disappointed with sports seasons, but optimistic going forward
Coaches fortunate to still have hope of a season in January include Pandas hockey head coach Howie Draper, who maintains a positive outlook on the state of his program amidst a global pandemic.
“With any challenge, there is great opportunity created,” Draper stated. “A month ago, when we still thought there was no chance of a season, we were starting to look forward to the opportunity of focusing more solely than seasons past on individual growth.”
“During a typical season, your team’s objective is to win a championship, so you’re continually looking forward to every weekend and creating a tactical plan to be successful against your opponent, so individual growth can sometimes fall secondary to winning.”
The athletes on the Pandas, have also started to see the adversity they face as potentially beneficial to their development as hockey players.
“Our players are starting to come around to the idea of how much they might be able to improve as individuals, so when we would eventually get back on the ice in 2021, my feeling is we probably could potentially be better.”
Despite the effort of the Bears and Pandas hockey alumni to save the season, the outlook on any competition resembling normalcy come January remains glum.
“At this stage, I would say it’s highly unlikely that there will be a second half of the season, there’s just so many things up in the air,” Hood offered. “You could have an athlete that has a cough or the flu every single week, so you would have to postpone these games and make them up at a later date. It would just be a short season, and we would not have a lot of extra weeks to fit in postponed games.”
A bubble concept, where teams compete in a closed to the general public complex, resembling that of the NHL or NBA remains out of the cards for university sports at this point in time too.
“University sport in Canada doesn’t bring in the kind of money it does in the U.S., so without that funding a bubble can’t happen,” Hood stated. “Our athletes are student athletes, so because school comes first, our players can’t just take a few days off class and go to focus solely on competition,” he added.
Coach Draper, despite his optimism regarding player development, shares a similar mindset to Hood on the potential season itself.
“It’s great there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but it would be nice if that light was a little more bright at this moment in time.”