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Safety First: Varsity Athletics in the Midst of a Pandemic

Despite the cancellation announcements coming from most Canadian university and college athletic conferences, CMU and the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference (MCAC), are indeed moving forward with plans to compete in soccer, volleyball, basketball and futsal.

"As a province, Manitoba has handled this pandemic extremely well so far and with most of our MCAC campuses planning to be open for students with hybrid models of course delivery (in-person and online), we feel quite confident that we can deliver a safe environment for our athletes to return to training and league competitions," said CMU Director of Athletics, Russell Willms.

Despite Red River College's announcement in May that the Rebels Athletic programs would be put on "pause" for the 2020-21 season, the remaining 5 provincial members of the MCAC – Assiniboine Community College, Brandon University, CMU, Providence University College and Université de St-Boniface – are each committed to seeing their season schedules start on time in September and are quickly filling their rosters with student athletes who are all eager to get back at it.

An interesting factor in the 2020 MCAC season was the announcement that came recently from the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), that due to the potential for a delay, pause or cancellation of the season due to the pandemic, all athletes participating in any sport in a CCAA conference will not be charged a year of eligibility for 2020-21.

"This was a big announcement for Manitoba and we hope that it will encourage athletes in our province and beyond, who may have lost the opportunity to play due to their cancelled seasons, to play this year in the MCAC with it not affecting the length of their playing careers in university sport," explained Willms.

In Canada, university athletes, whether competing in the CCAA or in the national conference most familiar to Manitobans, USports, are granted a total of 5 years of participation while studying full-time towards their university degrees. With the MCAC's plans to continue with their 2020-21 competitions, a season where eligiblity is not consumed, essentially it allows an athlete to compete in university or college sport for an extra year. The MCAC and RSEQ in Quebec are the only two conferences of the CCAA who have not cancelled of varsity sports this fall.

CMU Athletics will be following the Return to Play plans created by their provicial sport organizations and approved by the Manitoba Public Health authories.

"Each sport organization has developed a unique five-phase plan that has been approved by our government," Willms added. "These recommendations have taken into account things like, how to greet, how to dress, the number of people at each practice, physical distancing, hand-washing, sanitization of equipment, all the things that have come to be part of our daily lives whenever we leave our homes."

Soccer in the province of Manitoba entered phase 3 of their approved Return to Play plan on July 13th, allowing for 11 a-side soccer to be played under the Manitoba Soccer Association's sanctioning. The indoor sports of volleyball and basketball are a little further behind, but within the university sport calendar, these teams do not traditionally begin league competitions until mid-way through the fall semester.

On Tuesday, the Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (NIAC) that serves as the collegiate conference that the CMU Basketball programs play out of, announced that the start of their 2020-21 season will be delayed to January 2021 with the season adding a additional four weeks of play prior to their Championship weekend that is now scheduled for March 19-21.

"As a league that plays across the Canada-US border, this decision was the right one for us and everyone in the conference," said Willms. "I am very glad that our membership worked together on this and we are hopeful that the progress we are making in controlling and perhaps in producing a vaccine for COVID-19, will allow the borders to safely reopen by the time our new schedule requires competitions in North Dakota and Minnesota."

CMU will look to fill their fall semester with exhibition games and scrimmages with the other Manitoba basketball programs that have also lost the first semester of their seasons and perhaps cross into Saskatchewan for additional competitive opportunities. Providence, the other NIAC member with a campus in Manitoba, is scheduled for a home and away against CMU at the end of the fall term in both teams first meaningful regular season games.

For further updates on the guidelines for Return to Play that are being implimented by CMU Athletics, we encourage you to visit the websites of the Manitoba Soccer Association, Basketball Manitoba and Volleyball Manitoba for complete plans and protocols for each sport.

CMU competes in the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Association and entered into the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association in 2018.

Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference Northern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association