Bishop’s University supports fall sports cancellation, while Champlain College prepares for football season

By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

While the return-to-play strategy for cegep and high school sports is still being hashed out, the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec’s (RSEQ) university members opted to cancel the fall season and focus on the safety of its students.
There are 12 university members in the RSEQ, according to Stéphane Boudreau, RSEQ’s deputy director general. Each of them voted on whether to come back or not with a majority deciding it wasn’t the best decision, including Bishop’s University.
“There’s no official competition, no official games, no official championship, no official season; they’re cancelled until Dec. 31, that’s it,” said Boudreau.
Although major competitions got the axe, golf, cross country and soccer got the green light in a separate vote, but they will be limited to exhibition play. Universities can coordinate between themselves to set up exhibition matches or races.
Rugby and football remains off-limits, though, they’re still not permitted by public health officials, explained Boudreau. They can practice and train, but they cannot hold any scrimmages or exhibition games.
The other factor behind the university sports decision came down to the size of different campuses. McGill and Concordia have thousands of students at various locations. Student-athletes can become a vector for spreading the virus among the rest of the student population.
“All the discussions and the debates and the plans were always to take into consideration the health and security of all students, not just the student-athletes. You’ve got coaches, teachers, and volunteers; the circle around student-athletes is very large,” Boudreau said.
Matt McBrine, the athletics director at Bishop’s University, said he is in full support of the decision to cancel fall sports. The process turned into a major collaborative effort working with member schools since March.
“We worked with health authorities in Quebec, followed the protocols, consulted the federations, so again I think it was a very extensive process. Athletics directors and the RSEQ met several times every week all summer long and all through August,” he said.
A university sporting event is more complex than cegep, high school and local sports, McBrine continued. It’s an elite competition, the athletes are essentially semi-professional, he said, there are different departments to consider, medical staff, and facility upkeep.
While he supports the outcome of the vote, McBrine also expressed his disappointment for the student-athletes losing out on a full season. The athletics director is staying positive, though, and the university is embracing the fact that times are changing due to the pandemic.
“We have a really great set of programming for our 325 student-athletes that will include a lot of practicing and training and development, but also a lot of other things that we do well at Bishop’s, which includes being one of the best academic, athletic groups in the country,” he said.
According to Boudreau, the risk level to bring university sports back is simply too high and too complicated. The deputy director gave an example using football teams traveling to other areas. With 80 players on a team, they would need to rent several buses just for the players.
The situation is different for high schools and cegeps, however, as Quebec Premier François Legault and Education Minister Jean-François Roberge recently gave the go-ahead for sports in both of those sectors. There was no internal vote among RSEQ members.
“It could change quickly, so we still need to prepare and plan as much as possible and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Sylvain Laflamme, the athletics director at Champlain Regional College.
Champlain boasts one of the best football programs in Quebec at the cegep level. They won last year’s coveted Bol d’Or championship, but they won’t be able to go for a repeat this year. As it stands, Laflamme believes the league is planning to return for a four-game season.
With some areas designated pandemic yellow status, teams will need to stick within their regions, which is why there won’t be an official title game. Laflamme said there are talks to have a makeshift final within each region, but they won’t crown a provincial champion.
Champlain decided to cancel soccer, lacrosse and cross country due to time constraints. But he believes they can fit a shortened football season into the schedule. Laflamme and other athletic directors, including high school officials, hope to hammer out the details by Friday.
“If we’re fortunate enough to play one or two games we’ll be extremely happy,” said Laflamme. “The kids are committed to us and our coaches are committed to offer the best services possible.”

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