By Orrin Farries
College sports for NAIT athletes have been cancelled for the 2020-2021 season by the Alberta Collegiate Athletics Conference. While this is the prudent move for this year, it is not a reasonable option moving forward.
If only we could all wake up at the end of ‘this’ to a buzzing gym, the rising hum of the Ooks fan section, and the flashing of skate blades as our men’s and women’s hockey teams carve the ice up on their way to another season of championship contention. That’s unfortunately not how things are going to shake out.
Given the climate about public health this year, this season’s cancellation should come as no surprise. Yet, the officials that govern the ACAC took their time with this decision, weighing the state of the COVID-19 virus, prioritizing athlete welfare, all while lagging behind many other Canadian collegiate conferences calling it a year.
The decision is not without basis, but the aftermath brings about great concern for the status of college athletics for the year to come.
Professional sports and American college sports, the cash cow of American football, have gone on in spite of warnings from public health officials, and are likely to press on regardless how many positive tests they receive, and how many times athletic programs have to shut down their facilities and start up again.
In little ol’ Alberta, this simply cannot be the way we approach a restart to our collegiate sports.
The ACAC is working a couple of paces behind their NCAA contemporaries, if you can call them that, in that the organization doesn’t stimulate the same amount of cash flow and community engagement as does college football in the states.
All of the scholarship money for NAIT, and many other institutions’ athletic programs comes as a byproduct of fundraising, and without live sports to gratify the financial contributors, it is likely that ACAC sports will only continue to fall behind in the money game of getting back off the ground.
A venture into esports provides the ACAC with a way to keep their name alive, and to keep a semblance of competition stewing in the college landscape in Alberta.
There is great danger in acting hasty in restarting college sports. While all the teams are still given the go-ahead by the government to keep practicing, a privilege that has been withdrawn to recreational and social sport leagues across Alberta, we may still be in for a long haul of a sport-less existence.
There are many moving targets for the ACAC to hit before they can resume activity ‘as normal’, and while this remains the case, their best bet lies in the development of an effective and safe vaccine for the virus. This is not good.
Sport is a pillar of many communities, and college sport in particular, is for many athletes the final stage of their high-level competitive careers. If the ACAC wanted to avoid financial destitution, they have to begin developing a way to press on with sports in 2021, even in the worst case outcome of the virus ongoing.
Athletic departments cannot continue on as armchair committees with dwindling funding, and the college campuses across Alberta would be remiss to deny their student bodies a presence of college sport.
I propose that, god forbid, the virus is still prevalent come the fall semester of 2021, the ACAC schedules tournament play for their regularly scheduled sports, and issues a protocol of virus testing to all participating teams, with contingencies in place to deal with positive test results.
This would enable college athletes to reap the rewards of all of their years of hard work, and could be a platform to further develop the broadcasting standards of ACAC TV, and give valuable real-world sports broadcasting experience to the radio and television students learning at the schools that give college sport its meaning.
An outbreak could be a PR disaster, but another year of college sport lost to this pandemic could be a financial death stroke for college athletics in Alberta.