By Thomas Ketko | Illustration by Kagan McLeod
By Thomas Ketko | Illustration by Kagan McLeod
As the global pandemic presents new and daunting challenges to athletes and administrators, it is also sparking a re-examination of sports' place on campus.

Josiah Joseph pulled off to the side of the road to take the call. He’d been driving home to Peachland, B.C., the backdrop of his early, formative years, where he grew up boxing and where he found love when he first picked up a football during elementary school recess. Specifics of where he’d been before dimmed as the name lit up across his phone screen. Where he should go next became murkier, too.

In the time before coronavirus, a call from Wayne Harris, Joseph’s head coach with the University of Calgary Dinos football team — the one he’d lifted a Vanier Cup alongside one year prior — would not fill his gut with worry. That time was a memory. The threat of COVID-19 had been looming over the world of Canadian university sport for months. It started with the U Sports men’s and women’s ice hockey championships, which were shuttered on March 12 following Hockey Canada’s announcement that all sanctioned activities would be cancelled due to the evolving public health situation. By June, all university-level national championships for the fall semester had been cancelled, including the Vanier Cup, deferring Joseph’s dream to spend his last dance with the Dinos as a starting quarterback until the new year, at least — and perhaps permanently. If U Sports decision-makers chose to continue to enforce a football-specific age of eligibility rule, Joseph’s career would end not on his terms, but by having the misfortune of turning 25 before sports could return safely.

“As soon as I saw his name on the phone, I kind of knew — I got a sick feeling in my stomach,” Joseph says now, of that early July call. “To have my head coach just call me out of the blue was disconcerting, and as soon as I answered, I could hear it in his tone.”

Joseph understood the rule’s purpose. Aging out players who turned 25 before Sept. 1 meant that 27-year-olds with five years of junior football experience and five years of U Sports experience would never be playing against 18-year-olds, avoiding the competitive imbalances, safety concerns, and the loss of roster opportunities for young players. But still he had hoped that at this moment in history — one that required decency, compassion and empathy — a different way forward would materialize.

“My initial comments to the team [when the fall championship cancellations were announced] were to keep your heads up, keep training, stay ready — because you never know, and we have a good chance to repeat in 2021 and be the first team to hold the championship for three years,” Joseph says, his words calm and measured, delivered with a quarterback’s steadiness. As his coach’s name lit up his phone, though, those corrosive nerves in his gut bubbled for good reason. U Sports had decided, Harris told him. The ruling would stand. “When I heard my career was over, that was another tough pill to swallow. I just instantly thought: What can I do? What can I do to fight this?”

What do you do when the pause you’re trapped in threatens to become an ending? It’s the question coronavirus forced upon Joseph as he sat in the driver’s seat, somewhere between where he was and where he planned to go, and it’s one that touched every level of Canada’s university sports world. Coast to coast, student-athletes, team staff and athletic directors charted a course through the unthinkable, with no decision for where to go next existing in isolation — calculated policy choices balanced against intimate human concerns in an unprecedented fight to preserve the future of U Sports.

On the shores of the Pacific, Kavie Toor walked the decision-making frontlines for the University of British Columbia’s initial pandemic response. For Toor, not only were these unprecedented times, they were some of his first challenges on the job as UBC’s managing director of athletics and recreation. The announcement of his promotion was made public on March 11, and the next day, the department began strategizing how to proceed in a COVID environment. “It was jarring as a start for sure,” says Toor, who also holds a seat on UBC’s board of governors.

From reaching a verdict on the temporary closure of facilities and cancellation of events, to how the school would approach compounding financial implications brought on by the virus, the discussions unfolded where so much of day-to-day life has this year: pixelated deliberations over video conference calls and emails. Toor and his team sought to synthesize the best-available information from other schools, experts and the actions of professional leagues around the world — a step made more complicated by the dearth of detailed, consistent information available in mid-March. “There was a time where I felt like every hour on Twitter, there was some new announcement of a college program in the States [or] a major pro sport doing something or other — and they weren’t all aligned,” Toor says. “Some were to carry on as is, some were reducing, some were cancelling. It started with the Indian Wells tennis tournament.”

“We were always trying to think through the lens of ‘How can we make it work?’”

Organizers of Indian Wells, one of the world’s leading tennis tournaments, made the decision to cancel the event on the eve of its scheduled start after local health officials declared a public health emergency. An event of its scale, with its resources, concluding it could not be certain its competitors, staff and fans would be safe was eye-opening. “We were always trying to think through the lens of ‘How can we make it work?’” Toor says. “We want people to be active, healthy, competing at their absolute best, excelling. Those are all things that get us up in the morning. So it’s somewhat antithetical for us to move forward on decisions that reduce that. But … could we, in any way, shape or form with the information available guarantee our coach, student-athlete or staff safety? No. So I think that finally, upon that examination, it became pretty clear to us to say, ‘This is the way we must go.’”

The decision to enact coronavirus precautions and shutdowns was further reinforced by the advice of on-campus researchers and British Columbia’s own pandemic situation — the first case of community transmission in Canada was confirmed in the province on March 5. By March 13, UBC postponed all varsity team competitions through the end of the month, effectively ending the spring varsity season. Three days later, a three-week shutdown of all facilities and athletics programming was announced. At the end of the month, facility closures were indefinite and all programs had been suspended until June, at the earliest — ending any lingering hope student-athletes may have had for training with their teammates in-person one last time before summer. Exact dates varied, but universities coast to coast saw a version of this March progression take place.

“It’s just pretty heartbreaking,” Joseph said, the heavy exhale at the end of his sentence saying as much as the words themselves. “Especially during this time, it’s really important to stick to those who are close to you and, just being back home for the summer, every day I think about the guys and miss them back in Calgary. I miss training with them. And even sitting in the academic room for lunch with those guys. You really take it for granted when you’re around them every day, all day, so it’s just been, not lonely — because I do have my family and friends here — but I do miss those guys.”

It’s no small or simple thing, deciding to suspend a part of life as inherently finite as university sport. Student-athletes like Joseph have five years of competition — if they’re real lucky. But best-practices for how to operate campus facilities, let alone host hypothetical COVID-era competitions, were still months away and — in every iteration — all those necessary, safety-ensuring plans had a burdensome common denominator: cost. Designing a multi-million dollar bubble was out of the question. Daily testing, private air travel and individual accommodations during road trips weren’t tenable either. Canadian university sport is not a money-printing operation like the NCAA’s recognizable American programs. Budgets are tight in the best of times, and 2020 was far from that.

At UBC, the largest source of pre-COVID funding came from external business-related revenue, such as hosting concerts, camps or community sport leagues. For RSEQ, le Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec, which governs all student athletics in the province from primary school to university, funding stemmed primarily from event ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, fundraising and alumni donations. But for many universities, the foundation of revenue generation was student fees, which were widely waved given facility closures. “Our students paid zero fees in spring/summer,” Ian Reade, director of athletics at the University of Alberta, says. “That hit our budget [for a loss of] $300,000 and we had literally three or four days to make adjustments.”

“Not only do we have way less money, but we have way more problems to deal with.”

Those adjustments included cutting back on staff with temporary layoffs. But after navigating the initial shortfall, Reade and his team realized that they were going to lose at least a portion, if not all, of the fall semester’s fees, too. “People were losing them all across Canada,” Reade says. “We lost at U of A, again, in the first week in June about another $600,000 out of our budget. In a [non-COVID] year, if we have a catastrophic year, we might lose $30,000 to $40,000 — that would be a major cut for us. And this is $600,000.”

U of A’s athletics resources were eroded further when facility closures ended revenue-generating events run by the department, which accounted for about half its total budget. A concurrent nail in the financial coffin came with a reduction to the Campus Alberta Grant, an annual infusion of money provided by the province. The reduction amounted to $110.3 million over two years that would not be available to U of A “When you’re trying to cut $110 million out of the university budget, there’s not a whole bunch of cash lying around for people to just help you out,” Reade says. “Then you lay on top of that, not only do we have way less money, but we have way more problems to deal with. How do we look after athletes? How do we monitor things? How do we clean things? How do we travel?”

In early May, at least a month before any official announcement of fall cancellations was released, U of A had already told other Canada West schools that the financial strain had rendered a normal competitive schedule impossible. By June 8, three of Canada’s four provincial-level governing bodies for university sport cancelled fall term team sport competitions, aligning with U Sports’ decision to cancel national-level championships. The one outlier, RSEQ, eventually followed suit and by mid-September, all traditional university-level sports competitions were cancelled until the new year. “The next step for us was really to just take care of our people,” Toor says. “It was to really understand that — especially for student-athletes — they’ve always been competing in sport, or training, or have a race or a game to look forward to and all of a sudden, that’s gone. So how do we preserve their physical, mental and emotional health and well-being?”

Compared to the financial destabilization COVID-19 wrought, its daily impact on student-athletes’ lives is difficult to calculate. Human pain doesn’t fit into a spreadsheet. A lost season has different meanings for different people, and the sacrifices went beyond competitions. The coronavirus took simple joys like spending time with teammates and learning from coaches face-to-face, and replaced them with a constant, buzzing anxiety over what could come next. Mental health supports, necessary in the best of times, became even more essential amid this lurch in life. When universities were first grappling with the pandemic, they disseminated information about already-available resources to student-athletes. But the effort couldn’t stop there.

“We understand it’s a sensitive time,” says Steve Lidstone, Brock University’s manager of sports performance. “I mean, there are so many [factors]. If you have a pre-existing mental-health issue, and now you add the uncertainty of the pandemic, I mean, it just magnifies it. So just understanding that those that need help, we need to make sure we’re providing resources to. Second to that, is just understanding that this will affect people in different ways. Whether, you know, their parents are being laid off from jobs, there’s a death in the family related to COVID or a friend — those types of things can add levels of emotional stress and conflict that we just need to make sure people are working through.”

Maintaining a clear understanding of what students were going through was no small undertaking. Given that the virus’s first wave reached its apex as students were heading into the winter semester exam season, many would soon be living nowhere near their universities — with some whole provinces away. Even for those who remained nearby, campus facilities couldn’t be accessed. The casual day-to-day contact was gone — simple conversations in passing that help reveal how someone is feeling or remind them they’re not alone.

Methods for gathering that information from afar varied. Toor engaged with the student-led Thunderbirds Athletics Council to provide a forum where student-athletes could articulate the supports they needed. But many institutions, UBC included, leaned on coaches to be front-line pulse-readers, incorporating well-being check-ins into their recurring contact with players. “That’s probably the biggest impetus for touching base with them as much as we are,” says Dani Sinclair, head coach of the women’s basketball team at Carleton University. “There’s a side of you that worries about burnout if you’re contacting them too much. But we’ve framed it in a way that we’re just there as a support system. I mean, we have scheduled calls with them, but we have said, ‘If you need anything, if you want to do more video, or you’re having any kind of issue, we will help.’”

Like Toor, Sinclair took her current role just as the pandemic hit. Prior to assuming a head coaching gig at Carleton, she’d been behind the bench since 2012 with the University of Victoria women’s basketball program. The timing meant working remotely, from Victoria, from March until the end of June. With that time and space while no sports were taking place, she was able to invest in getting to know her athletes as people first, before getting to know them as basketball players — even if she hadn’t had the chance yet to meet them in person. “The biggest role that we’ve had to play is to make sure that the social-emotional side is provided and that they feel supported in that way,” Sinclair says. “Because, I mean, who really knows how to deal with what’s going on? I think this generation of athletes, they’re very adept at making their social media make it look like everything is fine and we have to make sure we’re digging deep to talk to them as much as possible.”

Mike Rao, head coach of Brock’s women’s basketball team, used questionnaires from psychologists to help get beyond the usual I’m fine. “If you get certain answers, that means you better stay in contact with this girl because she’s having trouble. I put those out and I ask questions and we talk. And I’m not a psychologist — many times I need a psychologist, the girls told me that and I believe them,” Rao says, allowing himself a quick laugh. “I just try and make sure that, from my understanding, they’re okay.”

“The virtual stuff, for me it's not the same. They could all tell you ‘Yeah, I'm okay.’ And if you believe them, a lot of times you're a fool.”

Rao’s understanding of his players runs deeper than most. His coaching career started at age 14 and never really stopped — or left the Welland, Ont., community where he grew up. For almost 40 years he coached at Notre Dame College, a high school 20 minutes south of Brock. He joined the Badgers in 2016, initially as an assistant coach with the men’s team.

When the pandemic hit, Rao couldn’t meet with his players in person the way he had throughout his life spent patrolling the sidelines. He couldn’t take in their body language at practices. Instead, he made phone calls — even though “today’s younger generation,” as he says, doesn’t care for them — in search of auditory clues that weren’t available by text, all while trying to walk the line between caring and being invasive. “The virtual stuff, for me it’s not the same,” he says. “I can’t get the cues. They could all tell you ‘Yeah, I’m okay.’ And if you believe them, a lot of times you’re a fool — I say that to myself. I don’t really believe it and I say that to them, ‘I don’t believe you’re okay.’ And they’ll tell me ‘Oh well, you know,’ and I’ll tell them again: ‘I know you’re lying. I asked you honestly, I need an honest answer. Have I ever lied to you?’ And then they open up because I don’t lie to them. Whatever they ask me, I answer as honestly as I can, as much as I know. And usually that’s how I gain some insight into how they are.”

Before the pandemic, student-athletes already dealt with the daily strain of being young people trying to obtain a university degree — anxiety over how an exam will go, stress and depression over what that academic performance may mean for the future, loneliness and homesickness — as well as athletics-specific challenges, ranging from competition and performance anxiety, to managing expectations, to dealing with injuries.

None of those challenges have disappeared with the pandemic. Instead, they’ve been compounded by COVID-specific problems: financial stress that can lead to taking jobs with higher health risks; the loss of championships and competitions; less motivation to train, or an inability to train well even if the motivation is there; isolation from friends and teammates; and huge uncertainty about the future. “I can imagine that the longer the pandemic affects our day-to-day lives, we will continue to face challenges and be tasked with overcoming and adapting,” Anna Abraham, a registered psychotherapist who works at the University of Ottawa as its student-athlete mental health coordinator, wrote in an email correspondence. “Everything they dreamed of for their short university athletic careers has been totally shaken up and we have to recognize that is a loss they may be grieving for some time.”

Homesickness, for not just places but the people who fill them and who haven’t been seen in too long. Uncertainty over how and when life will return to something that feels at all normal. Grief over what could have been, and the way things are instead. One doesn’t have to contract coronavirus to experience symptoms of this pandemic.

Many universities, including uOttawa, Dalhousie, UBC, Brock and Carleton believed the structure and engagement that come from training regimens would help student-athletes navigate their uncertainty and grief, making the establishment of virtual workout routines an essential part of not only preparing for an eventual return-to-play, but mental-health coping, too. “It did allow for some level of routine and schedule,” UBC’s Toor says, discussing the value of real-time virtual training for teams to do together. “I think people really appreciated that model versus saying ‘Here’s your workouts for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Make sure you cover this off and let us know how it went’ — which I know, some other schools did just out of necessity.”

“It’s just been kind of tough to motivate myself to get to the gym — especially with this outbreak. It’s hard to justify putting others at risk.”

For some schools, the transition to virtual was relatively painless. At Brock, for example, Lidstone and his team had long been using TeamBuildr, an online strength and conditioning program that allows for not only the tracking of workout compliance and progress, but also the creation of workout plans with accompanying video. The Brock TeamBuildr library, Lidstone says, has upwards of 7,500 videos. Carleton had previously established conditioning routines using the software, too, and that familiarity helped in making the digital leap.

At UBC, strength and conditioning coaches had to build their virtual program from scratch, but also discovered the benefit of having full teams log onto Zoom to train together. “They’re all doing push-ups together. They’re all doing dips together. They’re all doing jumping jacks together. And so that allowed for some level of camaraderie,” Toor says. “It’s of course not the same, but it did allow on some level for people to be like, ‘I feel like I’m somewhat reconnecting with my teammates.’”

Skills-based workouts were more complicated. It’s one thing to clear space in an apartment to do bodyweight squats and jumping jacks, but it’s another to practice hurdles without hurdles or three-pointers with no basketball net, especially amid stretches of the pandemic where regional government guidelines made outdoor activity of any kind impossible. “We didn’t put too many parameters on them in terms of the actual basketball part of it,” says Taffe Charles, head coach of Carleton’s men’s basketball team, pointing out that one of his players was fined for practising on a public court. Instead, he gave them freedom to use the pandemic’s pause as a window for exploring and learning at their own pace. If that meant dribble moves in a driveway, so be it. If it was studying videos of pros putting in work on YouTube, that did the trick, too. “That whole process of teaching yourself, learning and trying to correct yourself, and not having somebody tell you what to do or what you’re doing wrong — really trying to figure it out on your own — it’s such a massive, massive part of learning that is [often] lost,” Charles says. “And the greatest thing about it is that [when] you start figuring stuff on your own, now you’re committed to it.”

That same sentiment existed in university programs across the country, and student-athletes and coaches alike saw glimmers of positivity in the new virtual training setups. During solo work, in-the-moment self-assessments to determine what felt right or wrong about a drill offered a different dynamic than being told what could be improved, and the self-guided learning meant athletes had to reflect critically on what improvements they believed they needed.

Back home in British Columbia, Joseph was among those trying to do whatever he could to train. He threw as often as possible. His coaches organized virtual workouts and check-ins, windows of community and connectivity that Joseph was grateful for. But nothing’s quite the same as sweating alongside the teammates you chose to be your family. “It’s definitely been a lot harder to stay motivated compared to being back in Calgary with the guys training,” Joseph said over the summer, before limited in-person team activities were briefly able to resume on campus (only to be suspended again in November). “It’s just been kind of tough to motivate myself to get to the gym — especially with this outbreak. It’s hard to justify putting others at risk, exposing them.”

For Joseph to chase a Vanier Cup with his teammates once again, more had to change than case numbers, though. Perhaps it was the optimism ingrained in him over years of learning from the type of football leader he hoped to become for the next generation. Perhaps it was the defiant competitiveness that fuels so many in sport. Perhaps it had to be both, at once. He could not change the course of this pandemic, but from the day he took that call at the side of the road, he believed he could shift the policy decision that ended his career. “I really wanted to be the guy to lead the push,” Joseph says. “Coming off a Vanier Cup, the fact I’ve waited a long time to start and getting that taken away from me — I felt like I had some weight behind my voice and I wanted to use that to put everyone else on the map, every person in a situation where they’re losing out on their year because of their age. It’s equally as devastating to all of them.”

Joseph began collecting testimonials from the group of roughly 300 student-athletes affected by the ruling, largely via social media. His plan was to present them to the U Sports board, an effort to put real faces, real voices, real passion and pain at the centre of the policy discourse. U Sports athletes weren’t the only ones to reach out. “I spoke with a lot of ex-CFL [and] current CFL players that are on rosters, about the importance of a fifth year,” he says. “One of them said he wouldn’t have made it to the CFL without that fifth year. Some of them were hurt. Some were sitting behind other star players. Everyone’s situation is unique.”

Athletics exceptions had already been made during the pandemic, with U Sports stating no student-athletes who saw their 2020 national championships cancelled would lose a year of eligibility. Some form of exemption had to exist for football players who were losing their season and would be mere months too old by the time the next one, hopefully, began. Athletics directors and coaches across the country joined the chorus of voices asking for change. And in July, change came. The U Sports board approved revised age cap regulations. Specifics are still being determined, with a final version expected by February 2021, but the stated intent of the board is to make an accommodation for “The 300” who would have had their careers ended.

“Being able to have that experience again would just be amazing,” Joseph said over the summer. “I can’t wait to be back on the field with my teammates and the coaching staff and everyone around the Dino program — especially coming off a national championship. A lot of guys on their way to the locker room when the fireworks ended wanted that feeling again right away — including myself. As soon as I got to the locker room I said ‘I want this again, I want that whole feeling again.’ We’re just eager and excited to be together and back practising for another shot at a Vanier.”

While students returned to campuses, and athletic programs across the country enacted and evolved their in-person team training programs, the state of the pandemic worsened. Seven-day averages for coronavirus cases rose dramatically in September and October, and university communities weren’t spared. To name just a few examples, Western University saw 28 students test positive in mid-September, U of A had a five-case outbreak at one of its residences, and a November outbreak at Mount Royal University in Calgary saw 18 members of the men’s hockey program test positive.

The resurgence of the virus upended fragile hopes for some form of competition in the fall, and brought into focus how grim the winter picture might be. “When the flu season hits, it’s gonna be a calamity,” U of A’s Reade said in July, with a prescient eye to what would be waiting when the leaves turned. “It’s not just COVID, it’s all the other things that people get that look like COVID. And I just don’t think people are thinking about it at all. I don’t think it’s feasible, in university sport in our country, to even begin to posture that we can manage all the variables around this problem.”

As campuses reacted to the second wave, decision-makers for each of the four governing bodies of athletics, as well as U Sports itself, took stock of the variables. Coronavirus wasn’t going away. No vaccine existed, no Disney World bubble was waiting. Resources were scarcer than ever after months of stunted revenue. Adding up what could and could not be known led to different versions of the same answer: On Oct. 15, U Sports announced there would be no 2021 national championships for the winter term.

Provincial-level decisions followed, with approaches differing region to region — as COVID-19 responses so often have. Atlantic University Sport, was the only one of the four governing bodies that didn’t initially issue a suspension or outright cancellation of competition and activities, but even the AUS ultimately determined it couldn’t proceed with 2020–21 seasons after exploring its options with a return-to-play committee. The specifics may have varied, but the conclusion across Canada was the same.

“We need to rethink how we articulate the value sports bring to a campus.”

This time, there was nothing more Joseph could do. Barring a miraculous twist of fate, his Dinos career is over. The dream of one last shot at a Vanier Cup is now a what-if, because life didn’t pause everywhere when sports did. His goal of getting into medical school — hopefully in Calgary — and becoming an orthopedic surgeon hasn’t wavered. There are a handful of classes left to complete to finish his Kinesiology degree, MCATs to study for and write, a pandemic-delayed research placement still to do.

The path is one Joseph always intended to take. He just never thought he’d be walking it quite like this. After all the turbulence, how exactly the next months will unfold is no simpler or more certain than in March. Not for Joseph or student-athletes at any stage of their careers, not for administrators and coaches, not for anyone. But uncertainty has become, for Joseph and the rest of us, a fact of life. “There’s going to be a lot of challenges, and we just can’t take anything for granted, we have to be willing to adapt and be flexible,” Carleton’s Sinclair says. “It’s my job as the leader of the program to impart that to the athletes. If things go sideways, we have to take it in stride and put it into perspective — we’re still very fortunate. Everyone involved in our program has the ability to safely isolate in their home, and to still eat and watch Netflix, and that might be incredibly boring, but we’re lucky that’s the situation we’re in. And then, we can also try to find the opportunities within that … try to stay positive and try to continue to grow even if things aren’t normal. I think that’s kind of the only thing we can do.”

For student-athletes and coaches, challenges will include more than adjusting to the loss of a full competitive season. “I probably feel the most for the incoming first years,” says Tim Maloney, executive director of athletics and recreation at Dalhousie. “They’ve lost their Grade 12 graduation, prom, three months of their final year of high school, which is supposed to be a great time in your life. And now they’re [in] first year at a university and aren’t sure about learning remotely or being in residence. … Layer on top of that being a student-athlete … and maybe not having competition at all your first year. It’s really challenging.”

Athletic directors and policy makers understand the extreme difficulties student-athletes are facing, and feel for them when it comes to the stress of living with no real sense of what the next weeks and months may hold. What follows the most jarring pause Canadian university athletics has ever known? “We’ve had to react day-to-day ever since this started, and I think we’re still just going to be doing that,” Reade says. “We’re going to have to figure out how to sustain a program until COVID is gone.”

Most paths forward involve some combination of seeking out new forms of revenue generation, finding ways to trim program spending and trying to maximize the efficiency of the resources already being deployed. “In some cases, in some places, it might get pretty broken down and have to be rebuilt,” Reade says.

What a rebuilt program looks like, even in concept, is likely still months away from being known. For now, the hypotheticals only stop where imagination does. “It’s gonna take some time to figure out,” UBC’s Toor says. “It’s going to be different. I don’t think the same approaches, same schedules are going to work for the foreseeable future. But we are trying to focus on what we can do versus what we can’t do. Part of that is to find ways to deliver sport in a different environment with the rationale that if we want sport in September 2021, we need to start to take steps in January 2021.”

Varsity sports have been absent from university campuses for nearly a year now. A whole class of students will see their first years come and go without immersing themselves in the hazy roar of a homecoming. Being a Raven or a Thunderbird or a Dino will not bring them together the way it did for classes prior. What was once elemental to campus life has been sidelined. “I do hope that people take the time and realize that we miss it for a reason,” Maloney says. To that end, this moment also serves as a referendum on the place of sports in post-secondary institutions. How programs are rebuilt, the ways they’re integrated into their student communities, the tangible and intangible value they bring to universities will all be shaped by choices made here and now.

“When you see the shuttering of some programs, it makes people who value sport nervous. But we shouldn’t just be nervous,” Toor says. “We need to rethink how we articulate the value we bring to a campus — and I think that’s something we haven’t done as good a job as we need to.

“For sport at the university level as a whole, we really need to reinvent ourselves and realign our deep connection with the core mission of the university — reassert how we can positively impact the student experience, reassert how we can positively impact student health and well-being, reassert how we’re part of driving excellence.”

What’s been lost to this virus can’t all be brought back. On university campuses and beyond, the coming months will, by most indications, be hard in ways we cannot fully imagine yet. During them, remembering the lessons of sport, the ones lived by the likes of Joseph and Toor and Sinclair, will be essential. Hope is a choice, one that requires work and one that can co-exist alongside fears and uncertainties and doubts. Now more than any time in memory, it has to.

Photo Credits

Illustration by Kagan McLeod. All photos courtesy U SPORTS.