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This article was published 11/5/2020 (575 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Canada West Universities Athletic Association has revamped its framework for the 2020-21 season with the hope that shorter schedules for fall and winter team sports and regional play will reduce travel costs enough to allow cash-strapped athletic departments to weather the pandemic crisis.
The start dates in any sport, still to be determined, remain contingent on getting the approval of the various provincial health authorities.
"It’s probably a dual thing with health and safety and also just finding a way to face some of the financial challenges that we’re going to face," Gene Muller, the University of Manitoba’s director of athletics and recreation, said Monday. "Most universities would’ve been really negatively financially impacted.
"Most universities have lost sponsorships, would’ve lost institutional funding, would’ve lost some student fees. So it’s just a way of getting ahead of that before that gets enforced. It’s more of just a measured response to the situation."
The most dramatic impact of the reconfiguration will be felt in men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball.
Basketball teams will be limited to a 16-game regular season within a three-division format. For instance, the Manitoba Bisons and Winnipeg Wesmen will play in a Saskatchewan-Manitoba divison with Brandon, Regina and Saskatchewan, with each team playing four games each against each of its divisional rivals.
In volleyball, a Saskatchewan-Manitoba divison would be occupied by four men’s teams and five women’s squads. Four-team divisions will play each other four times, with four additional intra-divisional games. Five-team divisions will face off against each other four times each.
"For some of the sports, it was good for us to shorten the travel distances," said Muller. "In the sports where we had opponents fairly close by, we were able to do a little bit more of a divisional setup. Other sports, like hockey and football, which rely on travelling across the country, we just had to have a reduction in competition opportunities."
U of W athletic director Dave Crook said realignment helps schools prepare for the budget crunch to come.
"The budget stuff just came down from the university, so we’re going to wait and see how that looks and how that’s going to impact us," said Crook. "One of the things that we tried to do as a conference was reduce costs. That’s a big part of this whole thing in terms of structure. With our five teams that play in three sports, all of them will be into a league that’s only going to see Manitoba, Brandon, (Saskatchewan) and Regina on the schedule, so we’re going to play a much different-looking schedule for a year.
"Sort of harkening back to the days of (the Great Plains Athletic Conference)."
In hockey, meanwhile, each team will play 20 regular-season games with two games against each team and additional games based on geography. For instance, Saskatchewan, Regina and Manitoba will play two extra games against each other.
Women’s soccer will have Winnipeg and Manitoba playing three games against two teams and four games against one team in a Saskatchewan-Manitoba division.
Canada West’s six-team football league, which includes the Bisons, will have each member club playing one game against each team.
Meanwhile, all Canada West sports without interlocking schedules will proceed with championship tournaments in 2020-21, including cross-country running, curling, golf, swimming, track and field, and wrestling.
All the planning could go for naught.
"The scary part is will we be able to play and will there be school?" said Crook. "If there’s not on-campus school, I think it’s going to change everything for everybody...
"I would say if there aren’t students on campus, it’s going to be difficult for there to be athletics, in my mind. That’s my personal opinion, not the opinion of the conference."
HIRING SEASON: Muller said the process to replace retiring U of M men’s volleyball coach Garth Pischke is ongoing with the possibility of a hiring announcement in June. Uncertainty surrounding the pandemic could delay the selection indefinitely.
"If we were to get to the point of no season or no classes, it might require a recalibration," said Muller, who would not say how many candidates have applied for the opening.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.