The COVID-19 pandemic has completely wiped out this year’s university football season. That means Head Coach Brian Dobie and Manitoba Bisons will need to wait until 2021 to get back on the field.
But now there’s more disappointing news to students athletes not only at the U of M, but across Canada.
Players who turn 25 before Sept. 1 age out of university football and U Sports has announced they won’t be waiving that rule, even without any games being played this fall.
Approximately 300 players across the country will miss out on their senior seasons, including 14 Manitoba Bisons. That includes Winnipeg-born wide-receiver Riley Harrison, who’s spent six years donning the black and gold.
“It felt like as if I’d lost something very personal to me,” said the Sisler high school graduate.
“The overall experience of being a university student athlete, which is a huge part of my identity, which I’ve now lost essentially — it’s really tough to even put into words,” Harrison explained.
The team’s head coach Brian Dobie didn’t mince words when asked about the decision made by the U Sports board of governors.
“I’m being real honest here, I was furious. I didn’t expect it; I didn’t see it coming.” says Dobie.
In addition to the nearly 300 players whose university football careers will be cut short, hundreds more will also inch one year closer to turning 24, meaning they, too, will be one year closer to forced retirement.
“It’ll affect their scholarship money, the commitments we’ve made to them are now thrown into the wind. Although they made commitments to us … we can’t honour them at the end of their careers because of this ruling,” Dobie continued.
Many seniors on Manitoba’s roster moved to Winnipeg at their own expense and won’t be able to finish their final year of post-secondary eligibility.
A native of British Columbia and the Bisons’ defensive end, Brock Gowanlock turns 25 before the 2021 season kicks off. Therefore, he, too, will have his university career cut short.
Gowanlock was selected in the eighth round of the 2020 CFL Draft by the Montreal Alouettes and says he’ll be attending camp in Montreal if the CFL returns to play this year.
If the 24-year-old doesn’t make the team, he won’t have the Bisons to fall back on next September.
“This is kind of a freak situation so we assumed that we’d be able to continue our eligibility on. It’s definitely a shocker and it’s tough, like a lot of guys put their whole lives into this. Me, for example, I moved all the way from B.C. under the assumption that I would get to play my full eligibility out,” says Gowanlock.
Veteran head coach Brian Dobie says he plans on continuing the fight to get the ruling reversed amid the pandemic.
“Because of COVID, 100 per cent, every break and benefit should be given to people when we’re afforded that opportunity. That wasn’t the case here, in fact it went the other way,”
— With files from the Canadian Press