The NBA isn’t the only league that faces uncertainty for the upcoming season.
Toronto’s public colleges, along with most of their Ontario counterparts, have found themselves deprived of varsity sports due to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) work stoppage.
Although athletes and college teams across the province are training and playing in pre-season games in anticipation of their season openers, the Ontario College Athletic Association (OCAA) announced no varsity sporting events would be held until the OPSEU work stoppage has been resolved.
According to Josh Bell-Webster, Marketing and Communications for the OCAA, putting the fall schedule on hold was the only option.
“A lot of our athletic staff is part of the OPSEU unit,” said Bell-Webster in a phone interview with the Toronto Observer. “Some schools don’t have an athletic department right now because of a work stoppage, while some are at lower capacity than before.
“The decision was made simply due to keeping the competitive balance and integrity of our fall sports and understanding that, from a logistical point of view, some schools just don’t have the staff to run those sorts of events.”
Although Bell-Webster is hopeful the strike ends soon, he and his third-party organization are not entirely optimistic.
The official OCAA website released a statement regarding possibility of missed games.
“In the event that there is no resolution to the work stoppage by Sept. 28, the OCAA has a contingency plan to begin modified schedules for its fall sports. The OCAA has no plans to cancel any of its varsity sports seasons at this time.”
This has left several student athletes confused, and many are wondering if there is a plan to save the games or the time to play them?
“Knowing our season may be compressed into a three-week time period is brutal,” Brittany Szcerbakow, a member of the Humber Hawks women’s soccer team, told the Observer. “Having to play regular season games and cross-over games, and then OCAA semifinals and finals all in October will definitely tire athletes.”
Participating in varsity sports is the main reason why many students return to their schools for another year, and as such, they are feeling the squeeze.
With the work stoppage currently at a standstill, many athletes have questioned returning to school if the strike lasts an extended period of time.
“I came back to play soccer again because I have two years of eligibility left, and being on a varsity team can be like having another family,” Szcerbakow said. “But if we do have all the games in October it will also affect us while we’re in school since we may have to play at times when we should be in class and on weekends, making it even more stressful for student athletes.”
Balancing athletics and academics can often be one of the most difficult things for a college student to do, but these varsity athletes are willing to make the sacrifice in order to play.
The OCAA is aware of these concerns but can’t speed up the process from its end.
“Unfortunately, the longer that it goes on, there is heightened concern by our student athletes, parents, and fans of the OCAA,” Bell-Webster said. “It’s one of those things that’s out of our control.”
With thousands of athletes around Ontario being affected by the support staff work stoppage, it seems there will be more empty fields and gymnasiums in the near future, although some programs prefer to stay optimistic and use it as an advantage.
“It also gives us more time to practise and get in shape when the season starts,” Szcerbakow said. “We are trying to get certain schools to come together with us and play some exhibition games in the meantime to see what kind of competition is out there.”
However, not all schools are so lucky. At Centennial College, the support staff strike has left the renovation of the college’s new gymnasium in limbo, and currently, the men’s basketball team has yet to practise in its unfurnished facility.
“The main effect of the strike is the fact the gym isn’t ready,” said the Colts basketball coach Jim Barclay to the Observer. “We haven’t had a gym for two full seasons and the start of this season.
“We’re supposed to be able to get into it next Monday, even though it won’t be complete. That’s what I was told, but we’ll see what happens.”