Photo By: Ontario University Athletics
Under new COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, indoor sports are not allowed. However, there is a list of exceptions. In addition to professional leagues, leagues that have been designated as “elite amateur” will be able to continue training and competing.
Leagues that have been designated as elite amateur include the Canadian Hockey League (CHL), The Provincial Women’s Hockey League, League1 Soccer, Junior A Lacrosse, The Elite Baseball League of Ontario U18, the U19 Women’s Field Lacrosse ‘A’ League and the Ontario Scholastic Basketball Association. Notably missing from the list of exceptions is the Ontario University Athletic Association (OUA).
What this means is that a hypothetical 18-year-old hockey player could lace up and get on the ice with the Niagara IceDogs right here in St. Catharines. This hypothetical player could attend practises, travel for games, and train indoors. If, however, that same hockey player were a Brock Badger, playing in the OUA instead of the CHL, that would not be the case. The exact same person, playing the exact same sport, in the exact same city, would be subject to different rules regarding their eligibility to compete.
While the OUA had already made the decision to suspend the winter sports season until at least Jan. 24, the Ontario government’s new restrictions extend that suspension by an extra three days until Jan. 27 when the restrictions are supposed to be lifted.
Numerous athletes, administrators and even teams as a whole, have spoken out about their dissatisfaction with being left off the list of elite amateur leagues. Many athletes and coaches feel slighted, as their lack of qualification for elite amateur status seems to imply that the Ontario government does not see the OUA as an elite league.
Anyone who has seen OUA athletics can vouch for the fact that these athletes compete at a consistently elite level. The level of competition is, in the vast majority of cases, equivalent to or greater than the level of competition in the leagues that the Ontario government has given elite amateur status to. The OUA is the home of current and future Olympians and professional athletes.
Here at Brock, the dynastic wrestling program is home to athletes who have and will continue to achieve podium finishes in international competitions, several members of the men’s field lacrosse team will go on to play professional lacrosse — if they don’t already. Both men’s and women’s hockey teams have sent graduates to professional leagues, most notably Logan Thompson, who made his first career NHL start last week. There is not much point in arguing over whether or not these athletes are elite, because it’s clear that they are. The athletes and achievements listed above are by no means exhaustive; student athletes from Brock and the OUA as a whole have achieved great things, both during their time as student athletes and beyond.
Here’s the thing though, I can kind of understand why the Ontario government would leave the OUA off of the list of elite amateur leagues, and it has nothing to do with the skill and talent of the people who compete in it. Ontario and more broadly, Canada, does a terrible job of marketing and supporting athletes at the post-secondary level.
U Sports isn’t going to generate the same level of buzz as the NCAA, I’m not delusional. But honestly, when’s the last time you went to an OUA game? Was it homecoming weekend in your first year? Maybe you happened to be walking past the soccer field and stopped by to watch the second half on your way back from class?
Every week, OUA student athletes compete. Whether they’re taking the field, the court, the ice, the mat, or the pool, there is always competition happening somewhere on campus. Working for The Brock Press, I’ve spent a lot of time at those competitions. In covering these competitions, two things have always stuck out to me; the first is the skill of the athletes and the entertainment that they provide. The second has always been how sparsely attended some of the games are. Watching live streams from other schools and seeing their stands sitting nearly empty for most of the regular season, it’s clear that it’s not just a Brock thing. There are factors like location and class schedule that contribute to low turnout, but it’s truly rare to see a game seriously promoted unless something incredible like the women’s basketball team making it to the national championship game is going on. Even this year, when the men’s lacrosse team ended a championship drought that had lasted for over a decade by winning the Baggataway Cup, no one was talking about it.
Athletes make incredible sacrifices, they put in hours upon hours of work, they train and they compete, all to play games that, if they’re lucky, 50 people might turn up for. That’s not even to mention the numerous support staff. Teams employ student trainers, scorekeepers, statisticians and all kinds of game day events staff and volunteers who put in a whole lot of work to make sure that games and events run smoothly.
The OUA is elite, intercollegiate sport in Ontario is entertaining and competitive. But if Ontario universities want people to care, maybe the first step should be to do a better job of supporting their athletes and staff. Promote the games when they’re happening, make sure that the winter season can safely be completed when these restrictions are lifted. The OUA says it’s elite, Ontario universities say they support their athletes, now they have to prove it.