U Sports reverses decision, making over-age athletes eligible for 2021
REGINA -- U Sports student athletes who are currently 24 years of age will be eligible to play university level football in 2021, following a period of uncertainty due to COVID-19.
Two weeks ago, U Sports, the board that oversees university sports in Canada, made a controversial decision, saying it would not allow 25 year-old players in 2021. However they reversed their decision, granting those players a one year exemption.
“I tempered down my expectations when I first read the release. I read it probably three or four times, could it be true?” Rams linebacker Robbie Lowes said.
Lowes was one of the hundreds of players impacted by the decision.
Days ago, the Regina product believed his student athlete, and possibly football career was over. Lowes was upset that U Sports would maintain an eligibility rule despite cancelling this upcoming season due to the pandemic.
“It just felt unfair, there were a lot of questions, not a lot of answers, really just a rollercoaster ride,” Lowes said.
Eight Rams, including Lowes, received the good news on Monday, that U-Sports had revisited the topic.
“It’s us again,” said Lowes. “It’s not just ‘hey I want you guys to do well, I want you guys to win a Vanier,’ it’s let’s accomplish these goals together.”
The U Sports interim CEO says he received a handful of letters from athletes across Canada, expressing their frustration with the original ruling. The former University of Regina athletic director says the U-Sports board faced mounting pressure to deal with the issue.
“We had a lot of push back from members, we do listen to our membership that is very important to us,” Dick White said.
Most U Sports competition, including football, will be cancelled until January. U-Sports is taking this opportunity to review it’s football eligibility policies in light of the recent debacle.
“The current age cap policy is far from perfect,” said White. “We’re going to take the time to make sure we get it right and make it one that is less likely to be challenged in the long term.”
White admits their original decision was controversial, however the U Sports board feared it could face legal repercussions if a younger football player was injured because they were playing against 25 year olds. Coaches and athletic directors expressed their ability to manage a roster with a large age gap.
“If you happen to be an 18 or 19 year old that is good enough to start, you’re probably physically ready for it,” said White. “That’s something that they’ve come back and really educated us on our full time professional coaches know how to have a large roster.”
White says a current issue with football eligibility is having a specific age as part of the cap.
“Part of the age cap was there to move people through the system, that we want you to come in, get your degree, and go on and be great leaders and professionals in the community. We’re not trying to create an alternative to being a professional football player,” he said.
U-Sports says the upcoming review of football eligibility will involve discussions with NCAA members, who don’t use an age cap, but rather an “eligibility time clock” which is based on player circumstances rather than a specific age.