The Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference has decided to explore opportunities to conduct a season of post-secondary athletics this winter and spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ACAC — the governing body for intercollegiate athletics in Alberta — made the decision during a special general meeting on Thursday.
It comes as U Sports announced Thursday it has cancelled its 2021 national tournaments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, swimming, track and field, volleyball and wrestling are the impacted sports.
In a media release Friday, the ACAC said it is working on a plan to safely deliver sport under strict Alberta Health Services Return to Sport protocols. A task force has been developed to explore all options to proceed with competition.
ACAC CEO Mark Kosak cited new Alberta Health guidelines specific to junior, collegiate and university leagues that allow for up to 150-person cohorts. In addition, if a new cohort is required to be formed to facilitate season play, the league only needs to pause for seven days before resetting cohorts, according to the guidelines.
“We’re making our decision independent of anybody else’s influence, for what’s best for the ACAC, and do whatever we can to offer a season,” Kosak said Friday. “But in saying that, I also want to emphasize that we won’t compromise anyone’s health, safety or wellbeing.
“If it’s at all risky we will err on the side of caution.”
The ACAC said its member institutions — which include more than a dozen post-secondary institutions including NAIT, SAIT and Concordia University of Edmonton — can still choose to withdraw from 2020-21 ACAC sport competition at any time without penalty.
Kosak said as of Friday, the ACAC had heard from four member institutions who plan to opt out of play.
Tim Loreman, the president and vice chancellor of Concordia University of Edmonton, said the school made a decision last week that it will not participate in any league sports this winter, which includes volleyball, basketball and hockey.
Loreman said he was surprised by the ACAC’s decision.
“We thought it was the safest move,” he said, noting the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Edmonton and across the province.
“I think we’ve made a very strong decision. When you look at some of the universities in the United States who’ve opened up to sports, they’ve had outbreaks of COVID throughout their teams.”
Loreman said the school will continue training and coaching sessions, both virtually and in-person where it’s safe to do so. He recognizes the decision is hard on the nearly 150 student athletes, but stressed their health and safety is Concordia’s first priority.
“I really understand how disappointing this is for our student athletes. This decision was not taken lightly,” he said. “Understanding that it was a difficult decision to make, but I think it was a necessary one if we’re really serious about the health and safety of our community. I don’t think we had much of an option.”
Over at NAIT, a final decision has not yet been made but the athletics manager said they remain optimistic they will be able to safely offer sports for student athletes.
“We are kind of just waiting to see, getting closer to the time to see if we can actually deliver competition opportunities for our student athletes in a safe manner,” Jordan Richey said.
“Right now, we have the framework and the blessing to continue to a schedule format where we could look at possible options to deliver safe sport and once we get that, NAIT will make its firm decision if we can participate safely.”
Richey said the school’s plan for now is to continue offering training for students even if they cannot compete in ACAC competition.
“It’s been very difficult for our student athletes. That’s what they want to do — they want to compete, they want to play — and right now they’re allowed to train, which they’re very thankful for… but they want to compete.”
The ACAC conference council also unanimously decided to withdraw from participation in all 2021 Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) National Championships.
“The health concerns and logistical complexities involved in pan-provincial travel for ACAC student-athletes and teams was determined to be an unnecessary and unwarranted risk under the current conditions of the pandemic,” read a media release from the ACAC.
The Fall 2020 season of competition was previously cancelled and some sports were tentatively rescheduled to spring 2021.
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