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What you need to know about COVID-19: September 21, 2020
A new line of scrimmage has been drawn in university football.
On one side, there is the U-Sports board of directors, who came to the decision last week to stand by its 25-year age limit on players, even though the 2020 Vanier Cup has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other side stands all 27 U-Sports head football coaches, who don’t want to see players punished by losing eligibility over something completely out of their control.
On Sunday, the group, under its banner of the Canadian University Football Coaches Association, wrote an open letter asking the board to reconsider what will effectively end the university careers of around 300 student-athletes and shorten that of 1,200 more.
In it, the coaches association “strongly denounces the ruling,” stating it was made without the due process of contacting a single coach.
“It’s pretty shocking, I think, to everybody. And that’s one of the biggest issues, is it just wasn’t done in a way that was very transparent,” said University of Alberta Golden Bears head coach Chris Morris, who penned the letter as his final act as CUFCA president. “I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t be involved with something (like this).
“I have one assistant coach, I don’t have an unlimited amount of time to spend on things, and if I’m going to act on a committee and be invested in it, I don’t have time to do that if it’s just meaningless to people. And that’s very much what it seems to me, is that group is a meaningless group that isn’t referenced when someone wants to make an arbitrary decision.”
If Morris sounds more than a little fed up, it’s because he, unlike those on the board, is on the front lines alongside his student-athletes, trying to manoeuvre them and the program through uncharted territory of severe budget constraints and COVID-19 ramifications.
“It’s just difficult. It’s really hard for people who work with these kids on a daily basis,” he said. “You grow to love these guys and you want to do whatever you can to help them have successful lives. When you see something like this happen to them, it puts you in a real difficult position. You feel the need to stand up for them.”
The age limit applies to football players — and only football players — who turn 25 before Sept. 25. No such cap is placed on other contact sports in Canadian universities, be it hockey, rugby or wrestling.
“There’s an unfairness to the decision, it’s not really equal to what other athletes in U-Sports have to deal with,” said Morris, adding the rule was originally put in place to stop players from taking advantage of different regional rules in order to extend their junior and university careers. “It’s not really just wrong ethically, it’s wrong legally as well, and that’s where this thing’s going to likely end up, because you get someone who plans their life out and gets their university courses on track.
“And then you tell them, ‘No, you can’t do that,’ when there are other people all around them that do have the opportunity to follow a plan. So it’s very difficult for people to process.”
Not to mention the detrimental effect the ruling will have on players looking to move on to the pros.
“The CFL’s probably not going to have a season, so the kids who got drafted would probably need to come back and show what they can do before they’d have an opportunity to play,” Morris said. “To not have that opportunity is tough.
“While the pro piece is a part of this, the reality is 90 per cent of these kids, it’s their degrees and scholarships and the fact they have a plan laid out that they came in with to make all that happen.
“To just have that thrown away by someone who feels that football should be different from all the other sports, and it should be so different that even in a worldwide pandemic we can’t provide relief and compassion for kids like this, it’s tough.”
While U-Sports brought up the issue of player safety in the decision, Morris refutes the notion of having older, more mature players endangering young recruits on the field.
“There were never any studies done or any evidence showing player-safety issues,” Morris said. “And I’ve got to be honest, I find it somewhat offensive because that would imply I would put a kid out there who wasn’t ready or safe to play, and that’s just not the case.
“It happened in absence of consultation, it happened against the advice of all the bodies that have been put in place to guide their actions. I can’t speculate as to why they’re doing this, all I know is they didn’t really follow the process or the guidelines that U-Sports is supposed to stand for.”
Edmonton Eskimos quarterbacks, both past and present, will be taking part in the sixth annual Golden Bears Football Gala on July 16.
Legendary champions Warren Moon and Ricky Ray, along with current Eskimos QB1 Trevor Harris will join the virtual fundraising event, with tickets on sale for $175 and tables $1,500. Visit www.gbfalumni.com for details.
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020