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HIGH ACHIEVERS: OUA revises league, championship formats for safe return to varsity sports

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HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic

A 10-game soccer schedule is proposed for 2021. File photo

By Martin Cleary

Exciting touchdown runs in football. Meaningful three-point shots in basketball. Game-winning goals in hockey. Real varsity sports are on the OUA horizon, at least for now. But there will be modifications.

Ontario University Athletics announced earlier this week the league and championship formats for the 2021-22 season. The health and safety of the student-athletes remains paramount.

But the return-to-play strategy by the OUA contains a few interesting twists and turns: fewer regular-season games, more regional competition, caps on exhibition games and training camp adjustments.

“It is very important for our student-athletes and coaches to have the opportunity to participate in sport this upcoming academic year,” Carleton University director of recreation and athletics Jennifer Brenning wrote in an email.

University sports in all four U Sports conferences – Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario and Canada West – were cancelled for the 2020-21 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put student-athletes, coaches and officials at risk.

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“The (new OUA) structures are modified to minimize travel, in particular, overnight stays as well as (the) number of games. The OUA and its members are committed to delivering sport in a safe manner, which will adhere to public health guidelines,” Brenning noted.

“We are developing the protocols to safely deliver sport. I do think we have done our best to structure sport in a safe manner. We are working with our health professionals and high-performance sport experts to return to train and competition.”

The OUA also has recommended “student-athletes, coaches and all OUA stakeholders receive their vaccines when able to do so to assist in creating a safe return to competition this season,” according to its press release.

Here is a breakdown of what OUA league-based structures for the main G1 sports will look like as well as the open championship structures for the G2 and G3 category sports.

The football regular season will be reduced to six games from eight, and played in an East- and West-division format with a partial interlock schedule among divisions.

Basketball will drop to two, nine-team divisions, East and West, from three (no Central). The regular-season schedule will be cut to 16 from 20-plus games. Universities will play division rivals twice in a season.

Women’s and men’s hockey will be restricted to 20 regular-season games. The women’s league will be split into East and West divisions, while the men will have Far East, East, West and Far West leagues (temporary).

The soccer season will see the addition of a third division – East, Central and West – and each university will only play a 10-game regular season.

The East- and West-division format will remain in men’s and women’s volleyball, but there will be a reduced regular-season schedule of 14 games apiece.

The rugby format remains unchanged as the women will play in the Shiels and Russell divisions and the men stick to the East and West divisions. The men will play four games each instead of six, and the women stay at four games.

The eight women’s field hockey teams will play an eight-game regular season inside a new East- and West-division format.

For G2- and G3-class sports like cross-country running, wrestling, baseball, curling, golf, lacrosse, tennis and water polo, regional qualifiers will be held ahead of respective championships, which likely will be one-day competitions.

At the moment, G2 and G3 sports like rowing, swimming, track and field, badminton, fencing, figure skating, nordic skiing and squash will see no changes to their championship structures. There will be a fall review.

But the rowing championships will be condensed to a one-day regatta from two days. In sports with bronze-medal games, the match will be held if teams are at the championship and it doesn’t extend the length of the competition.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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