June 8, 2020

Ferguson: Celebrating what could have been in the 2020 U SPORTS season

U Sports

While the potential for a CFL season still hangs in the balance, its natural feeder system and all the moments that connect the two effectively came to a premature close on Monday when U SPORTS officially cancelled its six 2020 fall national championships. That of course, includes football.

Canadian university football is already criminally underappreciated and unfairly diminished by those who don’t — or can’t be bothered — to understand why this announcement hurts so many people in so many places across our great country.

That being said, without any medical or health policy expertise, it’s easy to see why the decision was made. Most, if not all, universities across Canada are already deep into planning for an exclusively online fall semester with little to no campus or residence availability.

At this point you might be thinking, “Who cares? Quarantine them like the NBA at Disney or the CFL hub city models being tossed around in the news.”

I’ve already seem some on social media clamouring for more vision, alternatives and answers with this opinion.

While your enthusiasm for U SPORTS football is greatly appreciated, the reality of the Canadian university game makes any of the pro return to play models impossible.

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Guelph’s Coulter Woodmansey was the highest-picked U SPORTS player in the 2020 CFL Draft. Scouting the class of 2021 will prove to be a challenge for CFL scouts (Kyle Rodriguez/University of Guelph)

Many schools use residences on campus for housing players before transitioning them into their permanent residence for the academic year. Throw them into teammates houses? Packing already oft-crowded student housing with more bodies who are wandering around in large numbers to and from football facilities with teammates from all over the country is anything but ideal.

Aside from the obvious dangers of exposure to long-term health and difficulty in keeping training facilities, locker rooms and travel arrangements virus-free — which would require more attention to detail and staff than are employed by U Sports teams — the fact remains that U SPORTS football operates at a financial level stratospheres away from any major pro theory you’ve heard floated recently.

Tie all of that to the stringent nature of many cautious academic institutions even at non-pandemic times and it’s easy to see why U SPORTS football was just never going to get off the ground in 2020.

There is no UFC-like institution in U SPORTS football pushing the boundaries of social acceptance in quickly returning to action while health care workers spend countless hours caring for those in need.

As a result, we arrive at a place with no Vanier Cup since its inception in the early 1960’s. More than that, we lose out on the stories and performances that make Canadian university football so unique.

No ridiculous Hec Creighton Trophy-worthy seasons like Andy Fantuz in 2005.

No unlikely, but charming playoff runs like Mount Allison in 2014.

No finally getting over the hump for a championship like Calgary just last November.

We are collectively robbed of watching players tantalize us weekly in the two-month sprint that is the U SPORTS football regular season.

Waterloo standout quarterback Tre Ford finished 2019 with 2,158 passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns while dazzling with 67 carries for 634 yards and six rushing touchdowns. I couldn’t wait to see another year of development and progression from him.

How about McMaster quarterback Andres Dueck? A big name recruit from Winnipeg, Dueck finally got the chance to take the controls of Stefan Ptaszek’s Marauders last year and turned it into a Yates Cup victory at Western before crashing out to the eventual Vanier Cup champions in the Calgary Dinos. Dueck’s fourth year is no more.

Saskatchewan Huskies running back Adam Machart finished the 2019 season as a Hec Crighton finalist and the leading rusher in the country with 195 carries for 1,610 yards and 9 touchdowns. Behind a big, motivated Huskies o-line, Machart would have been the odds on favourite for another Hec Creighton nomination.

As for teams that could have made noise, there are a few that come to mind although the competitive balance amongst Canada West and the OUA could have opened the door for a surprise name or two.

The Saskatchewan Huskies with a dominant running game and defence powered by 2019 President’s Trophy winner Nelson Lokombo would have given Calgary trouble out West, while McMaster’s chase for a Yates Cup repeat could have met stiff competition from Western, Waterloo and Ottawa among others.

In Quebec, the RSEQ’s Dusmore Cup would have been all about whether the Montreal Carabins could still challenge Glen Constantin’s Laval Rouge et Or without Danny Maciocia at the helm. Or would they stay above the lingering flames of Sherbrooke, Concordia and McGill?

In the AUS, Acadia would have likely controlled their destiny with a plethora of talent, but with some key pieces possibly moving on to the CFL or the working world, assuming anything could have made us all the fool.

The names are endless, the team potential limitless but it’s all done for 2020 before it ever got started.

The nature of university athletics is that players advance, graduate and move on. Few and far between will be the players who alter their academic plan to extend a stay in U SPORTS football, meaning the storylines we thought we knew going in will never be the same when it returns in 2021, whatever shape it might take.

“There is nothing like it and those players deserve better, but like so much in life right now from births to funerals and everything in between, not being able to gather and appreciate what we so often took for granted hurts more each day.”

— Marshall Ferguson on the cancellation of the 2020 U SPORTS football season

As a result of all this, the 2021 CFL combines and draft have also been greatly affected, with less film on players or understanding of how their bodies will react to a full year without football before turning pro.

What I do know is this: There are thousands of dedicated, talented football players across Canada that had their hearts ripped out on Monday by the pandemic and the resulting announcement. Ten years ago on Monday, I was spending the best summer of my life training five days a week with a group of young men I’d be lucky enough to call teammates and friends for life when we’d stand atop the Vanier Cup stage that fall.

There is nothing like it and those players deserve better, but like so much in life right now from births to funerals and everything in between, not being able to gather and appreciate what we so often took for granted hurts more each day.

While they won’t get their due appreciation this fall, I do want to recognize just some of the names eligible for the CFL Draft next year that would have played a large part in your U SPORTS football fall as compiled by Canadian Football Perspective’s Connor O’Neil.

These names could receive a waiver to extend their fall athletic eligibility for another year, but their academic standing won’t press pause the same way. Even if this happens, scholarships from many programs have been dispersed in principle to incoming recruits, many of whom have already committed and been announced.

Could a returning max scholarship fifth year player result in the awkward removal of a first year recruit’s scholarship due to tightening athletic department budgets? Does that make a financial situation lose enough appeal to an incoming recruit that they’d rather play elsewhere – requiring the messy process of a transfer – or not at all?

Here’s hoping they receive eligibility, time, coaching and the patience to ride this crazy wave into better and brighter times.

Pos Name School Conference
QB Tre Ford Waterloo Warriors OUA
QB Dimitrios Sinodinos McGill RSEQ
QB Andreas Dueck McMaster Marauders OUA
QB Mason Nyhus Saskatchewan Huskies CW
RB Louis-Philippe Gregoire Bishop’s Gaiters AUS
RB Cole Estabrooks Acadia Axemen AUS
RB Vincent Breton-Robert Laval Rouge et Or RSEQ
RB Adam Machart Saskatchewan Huskies CW
RB Justice Allin McMaster Marauders OUA
RB Victor St. Pierre-Laviolette Manitoba Bisons CW
RB Robinson Rodrigues Calgary Dinos CW
FB Konner Burtenshaw Queen’s Gaels OUA
WR Will Corby Toronto Varsity Blues OUA
WR Nolan Lovegrove Toronto Varsity Blues OUA
WR Golden Mulali Acadia Axemen AUS
WR Richard Burton Queen’s Gaels OUA
WR Kevin Kaya Montreal Carabins RSEQ
WR Pearce Dumay McGill RSEQ
WR Isaac Fagnan St. FX X-Men AUS
WR Gordon Lam Waterloo Warriors OUA
WR Tommy Nield McMaster Marauders OUA
WR Matthew James Windsor Lancers OUA
WR Sam Baker Saskatchewan Huskies CW
WR Kadeem Hemmings York Lions OUA
WR Liam Wishart UBC Thunderbirds CW
WR/Ret Ben Arhen Queen’s Gaels OUA
OL Pier-Olivier Lestage Montreal Carabins RSEQ
OL Adam Dingwall Queen’s Gaels OUA
OL David Sevingy Montreal Carabins RSEQ
OL Nicholas Thibodeau Laval Rouge et Or RSEQ
OL Samuel Ducharme Bishop’s Gaiters AUS
OL Rowan Hickey Mount Allison Mounties AUS
OL Tyler Clucas-Warren St. Mary’s Huskies AUS
OL Spencer Lambier St. Mary’s Huskies AUS
OL Luke Borsella York Lions OUA
OL Connor Berglof Saskatchewan Huskies AUS
OL Logan Bandy Calgary Dinos CW
OL Noah Zerr Saskatchewan Huskies CW
OL Tyler Packer Calgary Dinos CW
OL Bryce Bell Laurier Golden Hawks OUA
OL Spencer Andrews Waterloo Warriors OUA
OL Spencer Swan Guelph Gryphons OUA
DB Khadeem Pierre Concordia Stingers RSEQ
DB Nolan Bedard Queen’s Gaels OUA
DB Nicholas Cartagenise Bishop’s Gaiters AUS
DB Matt Watson Mount Allison Mounties AUS
DB Jordan Angove St. Mary’s Huskies AUS
DB Zack Fitzgerald Laval Rouge et Or RSEQ
DB Tyrell Ford Waterloo Warriors OUA
DB Deane Leonard Calgary Dinos CW
DB Nelson Lokombo Saskatchewan Huskies CW
DB Shae Weekes Manitoba Bisons CW
DB Arjay Shelley Manitoba Bisons CW
DB Talik Ehouman York Lions OUA
DB Kene Ezekeke UBC Thunderbirds CW
DB Andrew Beatty Windsor Lancers OUA
DB Zach Moore Regina Rams CW
LB Louve Moussenguet Bishop’s Gaiters AUS
LB Abed Hamidi Ottawa Gee-Gees OUA
LB Kean Harelimana Laval Rouge et Or RSEQ
LB Tommy Roadley-Trohatos Sherbrooke Vert et Or RSEQ
LB Jarek Richards St. Mary’s Huskies AUS
LB Redha Kramdi Montreal Carabins RSEQ
LB Ben Hladik UBC Thunderbirds CW
LB Jared Beeksma Guelph Gryphons OUA
LB Nate Edwards McMaster Marauders OUA
LB Grant McDonald Calgary Dinos CW
LB Tom Whiting Saskatchewan Huskies CW
LB Devin Comber Western Mustangs OUA
LB Daniel Solaroli Toronto Varsity Blues OUA
LB Charlie Moore Calgary Dinos CW
DL Gabriel Boucher Queen’s Gaels OUA
DL Joshua Archibald McGill RSEQ
DL Jeremie Verreault Sherbrooke Vert et Or RSEQ
DL Shaiheem Charles-Brown Carleton Ravens OUA
DL Anderson Recker Acadia Axemen AUS
DL Alexandre Gagnon Laval Rouge et Or RSEQ
DL Nicholas Dheilly Saskatchewan Huskies CW
DL Alfred Green Laurier Golden Hawks OUA
DL Michael Pezzuto Ottawa Gee-Gees OUA
DL Nathan Cherry Saskatchewan Huskies CW
DL Max Baatar Calgary Dinos CW
DL Tyler Munro McMaster Marauders OUA
DL Donovan Burgmaier Alberta Golden Bears CW
P/K Dante Mastrogiuseppe York Lions OUA
P/K David Cote Laval Rouge et Or RSEQ
P/K Jacob Solie Saskatchewan Huskies CW
P/K Loic Legendre Ottawa Gee-Gees OUA