The coaches knew it was coming, so did the players, but that didn’t make the news any easier to take.
On Monday afternoon, the Canada West Athletic conference confirmed that the 2020 seasons for football, soccer, field hockey and rugby have all been cancelled as a result of the uncertainty of the novel coronavirus pandemic going into the fall.
U of M Bisons football coach Brian Dobie has been working the sidelines at the high school and university level for almost half a century, and he was lost for words.
“Listen — I’ve coached 46 years. This is the most ‘wow’ experience I’ve ever had.”
Dobie says for the longest time all the signs were there, but it was still difficult for him to accept the finality of it all.
“You know, it’s interesting about sports and about coaching and playing and competing — it really hit me. It’s frustrating. I feel some anger and I can’t even really tell you why I’m angry. I have nobody to be angry at. It’s just tough.”
And it’s no easier for Dobie’s counterpart, Vanessa Martinez-Lagunas, who was going into her eighth season at the helm of the U of M women’s soccer program — coming off five-straight trips to the conference playoffs.
“We are all really sad, first, we have a mix of emotions right now,” said the former University of Texas at Austin Longhorns student-athlete. “I’m concerned our fifth-year players will lose their final year of competition. Of course, I’m worried about all the unknowns coming our way. We all have to be ready to deal with those, but we know where this is coming from.”
Across town, the U of W Wesmen women’s soccer program has also been left without a season.
Coach Amy Anderson said the disappointment has already begun to register.
“Players enjoy competing and representing their program — and, even more, players and coaches are driven by their love of competition in the game,” said Anderson via text message. “However, we are understanding that this is a Canadawide decision with student-athletes safety being the main concern and we are supportive of decisions made with that in mind.”
There is an added layer to this story for the football players who were going into their respective CFL draft years.
Dobie is hoping the league will bend the rules for this particular instance.
“I’m sure I’m not the only coach to lobby the CFL to consider at least creating an option for draft deferrals. Right now, the CFL doesn’t allow deferrals. I’m hoping this one year they’re going to make an exception.”
The same scenario could very well play out for the Canadian Premier League, which has held a USports men’s soccer draft in their first two years of operation.
And the uncertainty doesn’t end for second- and third-term sports in Canada West.
A decision will be made on cross-country running, swimming and golf on July 15. Hockey, basketball and volleyball have an even longer wait — or grace period if you will — as a determination on whether those sports will be played in the new year won’t be made until Oct. 8.
So is it better to know now, then have to fret over things you can’t control? U of M men’s basketball coach Kirby Shepp says you’d better believe holding out hope is a much-preferred option over closure.
“The wait will be very difficult, but we all know sport will return at some point and we must find a way to fill the void and provide meaningful structure to our student-athletes,” Shepp says. “I want to salvage a season and am still optimistic we can do it. Lots can change.”
It won’t for football and soccer, but Dobie is counting on his players to handle adversity off the field, the same way they do on the gridiron.
“It’s all about doing the right thing. This is real life. We’ve been in a pandemic where people have lost their jobs and lost their lives.
“Our players are going to need to put on big-boy pants and be very adult about this in their approach, and recover from this.”
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