REGINA -- Several Canadian athlete’s university careers came to an abrupt end after U Sports announced it would uphold a rule that prevents players over the age of 25 from participating.

Cody Peters is a 24-year-old linebacker who was looking forward to his final season with the University of Regina Rams.

After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the 2020 season, Peters hoped he, and other 24-year old players, would be granted another year of eligibility. However, U Sports has upheld its rule, meaning his career with the Rams is likely finished.

“I thought I would at least get my last season or they would have tried to accommodate us with everything that’s going on,” said Peters. “Feels like we’re getting blamed for it, or we’re taking all the punishment for something that’s out of our control.”

When the Canada West conference and U Sports decided to cancel a handful of 2020 varsity seasons, including football, University of Regina’s Director of Sport Lisa Robertson hoped the league would review the age cap.

Many felt the Board would explore the possibility of a one year exemption, but the Board voted to retain the current U Sports policy.

“I am surprised by the ruling and I’m really disappointed frankly,” said Robertson. “I’m disappointed for these young men across the country.”

The age cap was implemented in 2014 on the basis of “student health and safety”.

“[We are] certainly sympathetic towards those student-athletes who will exceed the age cap prior to the 2021 football season, the rational of health and safety was ultimately determined to be too important of a factor to provide an exemption,” the Board said in an email statement.

The rule was introduced so older and more mature players would not pose a threat to younger players on a team if there was a large age discrepancy on rosters.

“We are in unprecedented times and a one year relief of this rule, to allow a 26 year old to play, I am comfortable from a safety perspective,” said Robertson, who added she is not naïve to the rule.

“The reality is the number of 18 and 19-year-old men that make the playing roster and get on the field is frankly the exception and not the rule. Our coaches are professionals and they know that they have to build these young men up in order to play at this level of football.”

Before making a decision, the U Sports Board requested feedback from multiple sources, including the 27 football institutions, as well as the Men’s Football Sport Technical Sub-Committee before presenting a recommendation to the U Sports Board of Directors.

However, the Board is facing criticism as only half of the voting members have football programs.

“This is a freak of nature situation that we’re in” said Peters. “I would want to tell them to put themselves in my shoes.”

Peters was named the CJFL’S Defensive Player of the Year with the Hilltops in 2018 before joining the Rams. That same year, he was also invited to the Saskatchewan Roughriders training camp. He’s worried this decision could threaten any future professional football opportunities.

“That was always my dream, my goal, to get to there and be given another opportunity to show what I have,” says Peters, who was released after the training camp. “But with everything that’s going on I feel like that was just taken away from me.”

The age cap rule will affect six current members of the Rams.

“I will be highly supportive of compassionately appealing this on their behalf come the 2021 season,” said Robertson.

All members of varsity sports at the University of Regina, including the older football players, are still eligible to train and receive athletic scholarships in 2020.