Photo Credit: Mackenzie Gerry

 

With the OUA having recently put out a statement outlining their return-to-play plan, something they deemed the OUA Recovery Plan, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the statement and see what information we can gather from it.

 

There’s nothing earth-shattering in it — it’s only a few hundred words long and follows most every PR statement in the sense that it’s rather broad, but it does confirm some things relating to scheduling and gives us a good sense of where the OUA is at as of right now.

 

With the pandemic having wiped out the entire 2020-21 OUA seasons (both fall and winter), every athletic program is currently dealing with financial losses. It’s important to note that these programs weren’t loaded with cash to begin with, given the unfortunate lack of overall interest in Canadian university sports compared to, say, their southern neighbours.

 

Given the uncertainty around vaccination rates throughout the province and the country, it’s safe to say that any potential return-to-play will obviously depend on the state of public health. But hopefully by late-August/early-September, vaccination numbers are good enough that a modified schedule paired with social distancing and other health and safety protocols will be safe enough to play through.

 

The OUA has a few things working in their favour for the 2021-22 season: the fact that fall sports comes first is huge. All the major fall sports — baseball, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, football (the biggest of them all, though not at Brock) — are played outside, which is less risky than the winter sports which are all indoors. That gives the OUA an additional two-ish months to wait for more vaccinations to be doled out before the start of winter sports in mid-October. 

So let’s look at what is easily the most telling paragraph from their statement last week:

 

“Schedules being developed may include combinations of proposed modifications, as approved by the OUA Board of Directors, to be executed on a sport-by-sport basis. Such modifications may include such strategies as a reduction in scheduled league competition, an emphasis on regional competition, game caps on exhibition play and training camp alterations to align with semester start dates.”

 

Again, this isn’t necessarily new information; less travel and a more geographically-based schedule was something that had been expected, but now we can start to play around with potential divisions and whatnot to see what they could look like, which I will do shortly.

 

Before I begin to do that however, the “sport-by-sport basis” point is also worth discussing. The winter sports can really be split into two groups, ‘tournament’ and ‘non-tournament’ sports. Tournament sports are ones like fencing, swimming and wrestling, sports that compete through events and meets that occur (for example) bi-weekly, rather than sports like hockey, basketball and volleyball which play a condensed schedule consisting of 20 or so “individual” games.

 

I think it would be much easier to navigate COVID-19 in tournament sports; if the event is a Friday-to-Sunday thing, you get everyone in the location a few days ahead of time, do a little pre-event quarantine, compete and go home. There’s also a ton of logistical concerns with what I just outlined, not to mention the fact that these athletes are still student-athletes who are taking five classes, but I’m just trying to illustrate the differences between the two types of sports.

 

The toughest sports for the OUA to figure out are hockey, basketball and volleyball. A usual schedule will often have a weekday game (usually Wed/Thu) followed by a weekend game, or will see a Fri/Sat or Sat/Sun back-to-back. Oftentimes the weekday game is on the road and the weekend one is at home. Not to mention the OUA consists of teams stretching from Thunder Bay to Ottawa. 

 

The OUA does do a good job of killing two birds with one stone when they create the schedules; most university cities have two nearby schools (Ottawa/Carleton, Waterloo/Laurier, UofT/Ryerson/York, etc.) so a usual road trip would be a back-to-back in Ottawa to play both of the schools there or a back-to-back in Toronto to take care of two of the three schools there.

 

So here is an example of what a “regional competition schedule” could look like for the 2021-22 winter season:

 

NORTH DIVISION: 

Lakehead (Thunder Bay), Algoma (Sault Ste. Marie), Laurentian (Sudbury), Nipissing (North Bay).

 

EAST DIVISION:

Queen’s, RMC (Kingston), Carleton, Ottawa (Ottawa), Trent (Peterborough)

 

WEST DIVISION:

Waterloo, Laurier (Waterloo), Western (London), Windsor, Guelph

 

SOUTH DIVISION: UofT, York, Ryerson (Toronto), Brock (St. Catharines), McMaster (Hamilton), UOIT (Oshawa)

 

It’s not perfect, with the north division having four teams and the south having six, but hey, what can you do when somebody decides to stick a university in the Bay’s Thunder and North. In terms of gameplay, you’d only play within your division, very much like what the NHL is doing now. 

 

Then for playoffs, you could do something like this: 

 

  • Eight teams make the playoffs, split into two four-team brackets
  • The four division winners clinch a spot
  • Then the four teams with the next best record clinch a spot (like four Wild Cards)
  • Seeding?

 

Obviously it’s far from ideal, as the seeding would raise a lot of questions. Like in men’s basketball for example, Carleton and Ottawa are a shoe-in for the two best teams in the league, but since they’re in the same division, they could end up as like a three/four seed while a team like Lakehead — because they’d play in an easier division — has a better record than them even though they’d get pancaked by Carleton any day of the week.

 

So maybe you do a selection thing like college football, where a group of people rank the eight teams based on what they’ve seen and that’s how you do it. Anyhow, that’s looking way far into the future, but it is fun to think about this sort of stuff after almost a year of absolutely nothing. 

 

Hopefully vaccinations go according to plan (unless the plan is bad, in which case I hope they don’t go according to plan. I should read Noah’s articles more thoroughly) so we can get back to sports in the fall. 

 

It was already tough enough for these schools to stay relevant pre-pandemic, on top of the fact that a year of total inactivity killed virtually all the momentum they had worked so hard to build over the past few seasons. A 2021-22 athletic season is crucial for these programs, so fingers crossed we’re able to get ‘em back up and running come fall.