By Zachary Flynn

The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference announced Friday morning that it would continue to evaluate the feasibility of a 2021 season and work to develop an updated winter 2021 schedule.

NAIT athletics manager, Jordan Richey, says the league will work on developing a winter 2021 schedule that will be voted on at the December planning meeting, running December 7 to 9, 2020.

He also pointed out that the season could still be cancelled after league schedules are approved in December.

“Now that we know which institutions will be a part of [the ACAC], we can create schedules,” he said. “Even if those schedules are made and approved, something could happen December 15 that could cancel the season. So the reality is that these students are [still] waiting.”

The ACAC, along with Ontario and Quebec’s provincial leagues announced they will not be taking part in CCAA national tournaments for this year. Richey said that same decision was unanimous among all of the schools in the ACAC.

“What that allows the ACAC to do is extend their competition season into the end of March, beginning of April,” he explained.

Support from NAIT

Not every school in the ACAC supports a winter 2021 season, though. Those schools, who are unable to be named at this time, have the opportunity to pull out of the ACAC 2021 season and return to play in the next school year. Some schools cite safety, while others cite the financial hardships that a 2021 season might present.

Richey says that he and NAIT Athletics have full support from NAIT to go ahead with a 2021 season if certain conditions are met in December.

“Right now we have the full support of [NAIT] because we’re working to bring student-athlete opportunities to NAIT students. Getting closer to the date, depending on numbers, safety and what the ACAC plan looks like… if our schedule has no overnight games, we’re in,” he said.

NAIT currently has a no-overnight policy that would restrict players from playing both a Friday and Saturday game in a city like Grand Prairie where teams would normally spend Friday night in a hotel.

With schools like Briercrest being a 7-hour drive from Edmonton, complications can arise.
“Do we forfeit the one match against Briercrest because we can’t play? Is there a way of playing a neutral-site game somewhere halfway and then driving back? Those are the things that the ACAC task force needs to look at with all these different needs the institutions have.”

Practicing through uncertainty
The decision comes after months of uncertainty for athletes.

For athletes like Toni Burse, it brings some hope following an announcement from USPORTS, cancelling all national tournaments for the 2020-2021 year.

“It gives me hope that the ACAC has been looking at AHS guidelines and finding the safest way to have all athletes come back and do what they love with their limited years of schooling left,” said third-year ook, Toni Burse.

Burse opted to swap sports in her third year, moving from soccer to basketball after back-to-back provincial championships with the ooks. The announcement means that Burse will continue to train, but she is still unsure if she’ll be able to see her first ACAC game on the court.

“Truthfully, I don’t mind practicing whether we have a season or not. For me, it helps me get more touches on the basketball and if next year, I’m allowed to be in two cohorts, I’m not as behind as I thought I was this year.

And Burse says that regardless of the announcement, Todd Warnick still has her and the team training hard.

“The girls and I are still practicing as if we are playing in a league and we’re still putting in all of our effort every practice, whether we have a season or not. Todd [Warnick] helps with that too,” said Burse. “He reminds us to keep pushing ourselves just because in the end, it makes me a better athlete.”

Background
The ACAC announced in June that all competition in 2020 would be cancelled, with basketball, volleyball, badminton, hockey, curling, futsal and indoor track seasons scheduled to be completed in the winter 2021 semester. Soccer, golf and cross country running were rescheduled for spring 2021, beginning in April.

Both the national and provincial leagues would later announce that if students were to participate in the 2020-2021 season, it would not consume one of their five years of eligibility.