USports
Mac running back Justice Allin heads upfield with the ball. – Barry Gray, The Hamilton Spectator

When it was announced that the Big 10 was cancelling football this season, almost the first thing I saw was Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh’s reaction to the decision. Harbaugh felt that the decision was ill-advised, insisting that it was possible to play a Big 10 football season while also keeping the utmost in safety standards to keep players healthy despite a developing global pandemic. Furthermore, there were also many interviews with Big 10 players where they had the opportunity to voice their opinion.

Players and Coaches in USports, however, have not been given the same types of opportunities. There has been very little in the way of a platform for USports players and coaches to express their feelings on the situation, which begs the question: How do USports athletes and coaches feel about the cancellation of the 2020 USports football season? I had the chance to sit down and talk to players and coaches from around the league to get an idea.

Obviously, the prevailing sentiment to do with the canceled season was a disappointment. For University of Calgary offensive lineman George Hutchings, the news was particularly unwelcome:

“It wasn’t a surprise (that CanWest decided to cancel 2020 fall sports). With the given circumstances, it was something I was waiting to hear, so it wasn’t a shock for me, but it was disappointing for sure. Coming off of a national championship, the first thing you think about is the next one, especially with the team that we have and the players we have returning.”

The University of Calgary Dinos have had a lot of success recently, claiming the Hardy Cup 3 of the last 4 years, including last year on their way to becoming 2019 Vanier Cup champions. With that kind of momentum, the cancellation of football in 2020 would be unbelievably disheartening. That being said, having recently tested positive for Covid-19, Hutchings understands the difficulty surrounding the virus:

“I got tested and ended up testing positive. My roommate and I were just doing some landscaping at my house. We had dinner with my family that night and they all got it too. It is very real and very contagious, and I don’t think anything short of a bubble for any sport would be safe. I have no idea where I could have picked it up which is why this virus has been so difficult to contain in the first place.”

If the 2020 season was to take place, there would obviously have to be extensive safety precautions put in place in order to protect the health of the people involved and those around them. Star University of Toronto Receiver Nolan Lovegrove had this to say on the matter:

“There’s always the ability to take precautions, but being in the middle of Toronto, which is obviously a big travel hub, it would have been difficult. They might have been able to do it, but I also understand the financial and liability side of it. If they were to try and put on a season, they’d have to commit a ton of resources, which is hard for Canadian universities that aren’t a part of a billion-dollar industry like the NCAA.”

I can imagine that money was a big consideration when making this decision. Canadian universities do not have the same resources that a power-5 conference school would have in the NCAA. Especially for a sport like football, where the people involved in any given university program could be anywhere from 100 to 150 people depending on the school. Despite a smaller pool of resources, Lovegrove said that he, personally, would have felt safe playing this fall:

“I would have felt safe for sure. I’ve worked every day this summer in the retail business, so I potentially could have been exposed to it. I think a lot of it has to do with discipline. It’s things like wearing your mask, washing your hands, making sure you aren’t touching your eyes, your ears, your mouth, just things like that. With 120-plus people in our program though, I think it would be hard to be perfect in keeping that discipline. All it really takes is one guy not washing his hands or someone ordering pizza or something like that for it to become an unsafe situation. It’s tough to expect a group of so many people to have that kind of discipline 24/7 for 3 months.”

USports announced their decision to cancel the 2020 football season (and all fall sports) on June 8th. The timing of this decision was questionably early, especially since most people were not expecting the decision at that time. Pete Fraser, head coach of the Mount Allison University Mounties had this to say on the subject:

“I was always one to want to delay as long as we possibly could so that we had the potential to play, even if it was a shortened October season or something like that. I was holding out hope that they would just delay the decision until they had more information. June is relatively early to pull the plug on an October season. When the news came out initially it was a wide range of emotion, and it was disappointing, but at least it was a bit of a relief. Everybody was kind of in limbo for a few months there, but once it kind of sunk in, it became more of a refocus as far as what we want to do moving forward, how we planned to keep the team together and how we need to be supporting our athletes.”

Much like the Calgary Dinos, Coach Fraser felt that MtA also had a good foundation leading into the 2020 season (Go Mounties):

“It was not great for us because we had a lot of momentum as a program right now. We got back into the playoffs, we missed two last-second field goals that, had we made them, we’d be 5-3 and we also won the CFL 7 on 7 passing showcase convincingly. We had a lot of great things going on this offseason so it was really disappointing to not be able to continue on that track. Given how well the Maritimes have done with the virus, I was optimistic that we’d have a shortened season or something like that at the very least, but there is a fear that there might be some kind of second-wave when cold and flu season comes around. I would’ve liked to see what October brought and my main priority is to keep everybody safe but I would’ve loved to be able to get out there and compete so I was holding out as much hope as I could that the situation would get better.”

For some, though, the implications of a canceled season go beyond what could have been accomplished this year. For many athletes with aspirations beyond USports, the canceled 2020 football season could be the difference between getting drafted to the CFL or not. Joe Burrow is a great example of how one season can be the difference between being the first overall pick and going undrafted. For electric McMaster runningback Justice Allin, who’s draft year is the upcoming one, the events surrounding Covid-19 have put everything up in the air:

“I was excited. I just came off of a pretty good season with the team. We won an OUA championship. I have some film (from previous seasons) that I could put together to hopefully get noticed by CFL scouts but I was telling myself this was gonna be the year that I really make a name for myself in that way. But now I don’t know. Will I even get a call? Will the film I have be enough to put together a good enough tape? If I do, will I even get noticed? Who knows. This decision by USports could drastically change my life.”

For Canadian players at the USports level, it is extremely difficult to garner CFL interest. For example, Brandon Bridge was the first Canadian-born quarterback to start and win in the CFL since 1985. There are requirements as far as Canadian-born players on CFL rosters, but for skill positions, it becomes harder and harder every year to break into the league. This task is not made easier by the fact that we’re not even sure if there will be combines this year.

“There was a ton of OUA guys drafted this year and the OUA was the only conference to have a combine. I’d be interested to see if there’s a connection, especially this year since we didn’t have a season, between conferences who have a combine and guys from those conferences getting drafted.”

For players with CFL aspirations, the combine this year is very important. Without a season this, regional and conference combines, as well as the national combine, will be the only way for USports athletes to raise their draft stock and be picked in the 2021 CFL Draft.

For players with CFL aspirations, the combine this year is very important. Without a season this, regional and conference combines, as well as the national combine, will be the only way for USports athletes to raise their draft stock and be picked in the 2021 CFL Draft.

The decision to cancel USports was a controversial one, but at the end of the day, this is the situation we’re in. This pandemic has changed millions of peoples’ lives in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. For USports football teams, we look forward to the 2021 season and the rest of this 21-month long offseason. We will continue to roll with the punches and use this time to improve.

This is far from an ideal situation, but we will come back stronger than ever.