After taking two teams out of competition in April with the discontinuation of its hockey programs, the University of Lethbridge learned Monday that three more of its teams will not compete in the 2020-2021 season as Canada West announced the cancellation of fall sports due to COVID-19.
In a news release, Canada West said the decision was made unanimously by 17 member schools. The cancellation will affect football, soccer, rugby and field hockey.
It’s not the start that Neil Langevin would have drawn up for his first months as the new Pronghorns athletic director.
“I’m with the rest of the community with hurting,” said Langevin, who also serves as the head coach of the women’s rugby team. “You know, losing our hockey teams wasn’t easy, and this announcement wasn’t easy.”
With no football or field hockey programs at the university, the Pronghorns will see men’s and women’s soccer and women’s rugby 15’s affected by the cancellation of fall sports.
Langevin said he spoke to his rugby team over video conference on Monday.
“They’re saddened [and] some are a little bit angry as well, but they really do understand the decision,” he said. “They’re thankful for their coaches and other leaders in the conference that have made decisions that have their safety at mind first.”
Langevin said the decision wasn’t a complete surprise to him, or his athletes.
“It’s pretty clear now that we’re not — and I say all of us, not just athletics — we’re not getting around the physical distancing rules for some time,” he said. “And it’s really impossible to play sports — many of our team sports — with a physical distancing component of six feet.”
The cancelled seasons will not affect student athletes’ U SPORTS eligibility, but Langevin said scholarships are still being looked at.
“Obviously we’re committed to honouring our athletic scholarship agreements, but there’s many third-party scholarships that we use — specifically, the provincial government provides the Alberta Athletic Awards — and we’re not sure of exactly where they’re going with their decisions,” he said.
Women’s soccer head coach Ilsa Wong said the decision will be especially difficult on first-year and fifth-year student athletes.
“For any first-year student, regardless of if you’re a student athlete or not, you’re going to be completely missing the first-year university experience,” she said. “But you know, our program is very young, and so in some ways I think we’re fortunate to not have any players going into their fifth year who would actually be missing that fifth-year experience.”
Langevin’s roster is not quite so lucky, as he has five girls on the women’s rugby roster who were set to enter their fifth and final year of eligibility.
“We’re really gutted for those athletes,” he said.
Canada West is set to make a decision on championships in golf, swimming and cross-country by July 15, and by Oct. 8 on two-term sports like volleyball, hockey, and basketball that have all been pushed back to January, for now.
“The COVID-19 task force will continue to look at guidelines and current situations, and that’s why they have not made final decisions about winter sports,” Langevin said.
The Pronghorns teams will now continue to connect and train virtually as best they can, through what has now become an off-season extended indefinitely.
“Our objective is to continue to move forward in a positive direction and get ourselves ready for the next competitive U SPORTS season, and our hope is that it’ll be by next fall at the latest,” said Wong.
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