Ontario University Athletics announced the approval of their Recovery Plan, which includes alternate formats and open championships, on June 2.
After student-athletes, coaches and staff spent more than 450 days under a league-wide suspension, the OUA’s Board of Directors accepted the conference’s league-based sports protocols concerning competition for the 2021-22 season.
The OUA’s new format sorts university sports teams into two divisions for schools located east and west of Toronto.
Gord Grace, the OUA’s president and chief executive officer, told the Gazette that the Western University Mustangs will not be playing the Queen’s University Gaels in the upcoming fall season under the new competition structure.
“We’ve eliminated overnight travel … taking away the need for hotels … minimizing the risk,” explained Grace. “The other factor is that it was just a way to reduce costs for schools who experienced a lot of financial hardship.”
The #OUA is pleased to announce the approval by the Board of Directors of the conference’s plans for league-based sport in the 2021-22 season, the latest step in the path for a return to sport this fall.#WeAreONE https://t.co/mTaRIR4iDx— Ontario University Athletics (@OUAsport) June 2, 2021
Shortly after the OUA’s announcement, the Ontario government released a provincial framework for select Ontario professional and elite-amateur sport leagues.
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Minister, presented the province’s accelerated return to sport plan, which doesn't mention Ontario’s university student-athletes.
Grace explained that the OUA's approved procedures still need support from the Ontario government.
“We have our plans in place. Now, we need support from the government and the provincial sports organizations to make that happen,” said Grace.
🤔The Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA) were not included in the province's accelerated return-to-play plan announced Mondayhttps://t.co/f5mTrJ3Q53— CBC Sports (@cbcsports) June 17, 2021
Despite student-athletes and spectators' excitement about the return to sports, many questions have been left unanswered.
Grace highlighted that some discussions — including those surrounding vaccines, coronavirus testing and in-person viewing — are still on the table.
According to the Government of Canada, Ontario’s vaccination rates have been steadily on the rise. As of June 12, over 64 per cent of Ontarians have been administered their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Although more Ontarians are getting vaccinated, Grace asserted that the OUA’s vaccine mandates have not been decided.
“It’s not off the table. It’s an ongoing conversation,” said Grace. “We are strongly encouraging student-athletes to get vaccinated, as well as our coaches, officials and everybody participating in our games, because it reduces the risk and increases the likelihood of us executing the season that we want to do this fall.”
Opportunities to test student-athletes are also being addressed by the OUA Board of Directors, Recovery Advisor Committee and chief medical officer.
Though these Recovery Plan updates have not been tailored to university sports fans off the field, Grace did shed some light on the future of in-person attendance, saying that fans returning to Western’s TD Stadium is a possibility.
“We haven’t finalized the decision on [in-person attendance] as it really will depend on the regional health units and what the [university] institutions would approve,” explained Grace.
Grace said students should anticipate an announcement about the possibility of open championships, emphasizing that some sports may just have a regional championship instead of a provincial final.
“All of our athletic directors and staff are doing this because we have a passion for sport,” said Grace. “We want to get back to playing sports. That’s what gets us excited.”