Atlantic University Sport suspends competition until January 2021

Atlantic University Sport suspends competition until January 2021

(HALIFAX, N.S.) Atlantic University Sport has announced the decision to suspend all conference regular season and postseason competition until January 2021.

UPEI is disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches and supporters/fans about the difficult decision that the AUS (and its 11 member institutions) had to make to suspend varsity competition, but it was the right one, given the current public health guidance in the Atlantic region, and our number one priority—the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff. UPEI recognizes how this suspension will have a tremendous impact on our Panther student-athletes, and we are very proud of their resilience during this uncertainty. Just as UPEI is pivoting and innovating to deliver academic programming in September, the Department of Athletics and Recreation is also adapting to continue to provide alternative varsity programming. UPEI Athletics and Recreation expects to have more information available to student-athletes by mid-June.

This decision was finalized by the AUS board of directors at their most recent meeting and was reached in consultation with Canadian university sport conferences Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Canada West, as well as the national governing body U SPORTS.

OUA also announced the suspension of all conference competition until January 2021 (details here), while Canada West announced that no first-term competition will occur in team sports (details here). U SPORTS also confirmed the cancellation of all fall 2020 national championship events (details here).

"It is with very heavy hearts that we make this announcement today," said AUS executive director Phil Currie. "Our thoughts are with our student-athletes, coaches and athletic department staff for whom this decision will have the biggest impact. We want them to know first and foremost that this decision was not taken lightly and that the number one factor driving our decision-making has been their safety and well-being. We also recognize the impact this decision will have on our valued fans, corporate partners and other stakeholders. We know that they will understand and appreciate the rationale behind this, the magnitude of what we are up against and what led to this decision."

Since the first direct impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Canadian university athletics were felt in March 2020 (with the cancellations of the remaining U SPORTS national championships), meetings at the conference and national levels have taken place regularly with university and sport administrators monitoring developments and public health directives and assessing possible implications on the upcoming competition season.

The AUS board of directors is comprised of the presidents of each of its member universities. As such, this decision was reached and is supported by all 11 AUS member schools. The same decision was reached by the respective boards of directors governing OUA, Canada West and U SPORTS.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several member universities have announced plans for partial or complete virtual course delivery on their campuses this fall. The AUS conference spans four provinces, all in different stages of recovery and re-opening, and is subject to the directives of four different provincial health authorities.

AUS's 2,500+ student-athletes include young people from all over Canada, as well as a sizeable contingent of international students. Member schools are also being faced with unprecedented financial challenges as a result of this global crisis.

"The AUS examined several scenarios for the fall term of the 2020-21 season, but with all of the unique challenges we face—including the decision by many institutions to move to predominantly online course delivery—none could be squared appropriately with public health requirements," said Currie. "As difficult and disappointing as this decision is, it is the most prudent and responsible one under the circumstances. Adherence to public health directives is essential and we cannot reconcile those with the requirements of competitive sports at the AUS level."

"University athletics will look very different this fall, just as the learning and living on our member schools' campuses will look different during this COVID-19 recovery period," he said. "But one thing is certain and that is that AUS competition will be back. The decisions we are making today are necessary ones on the path back to what is best about our conference—watching our student-athletes compete and inspire us."

AUS and its counterparts across the country remain committed to facilitating sport competition as soon as it is safe to do so. Today's decision impacts conference regular season and postseason events as well as national championship events scheduled through to the end of December 2020.

With the conference continuing to monitor COVID-19 recovery plans and consult with public health authorities and member universities, a decision on winter term competition (beginning January 2021) will not be made until this fall.

AUS members remain committed to providing programming to their student-athletes through the 2020-21 season and will work within the parameters they are afforded by public health authorities.

While each member university will create and mobilize their own strategy, examples of possible programing include small group training intended to grow as restrictions are lifted, continued academic support for student-athletes, training and conditioning, and more.

"Our student-athletes are students first," said AUS president and UNB director of athletics John Richard. "We're happy to see our respective universities pivoting and innovating to be able to deliver academic programing under these circumstances. As sport administrators, we're also adapting to these times and we're going to continue to support our student-athletes as we always have. We know this decision will be disappointing to them, but we are confident they will continue to be leaders in our communities as we navigate the path back to normal competition."

The national governing body U SPORTS has been working to determine what implications this exceptional season will have on both student-athlete eligibility and the permissibility of athletic financial awards.

In short, it has been determined that if there is no national championship in a given sport, student-athletes in that sport will not consume a year of eligibility. At their discretion, member universities will still be permitted to provide student-athletes with athletic financial awards this season, even if the delivery of their sport has been compromised.

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