Wojtek Kraj (#14) is one of the top recruits for the men’s volleyball team this past year. Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads around the world, decisive and necessary measures have been taken to slow the spread of the virus. On March 23, the Ontario government announced that all non-essential services would be required to close for two weeks. These closures, while necessary, will have major impacts on all sectors of society. The current pandemic is effecting operations for our various sports teams due to closures of facilities and team operations. As precautions being taken against COVID-19 increase and uncertainty about the future remains, McMaster Athletics must be prepared for a long road ahead.
Let’s begin with recruiting. Naturally, recruiting revolves around one-on-one and in-person contact with the athletes, and often involves coaches watching athletes competing. With school closures expected to last much longer than anticipated, many high school athletics teams will not see the end of their seasons.
These closures would mean that crucial areas of competition, such as city championships, provincials and nationals, will no longer take place in sports such as rugby. Therefore, the previously available opportunities for varsity coaches to base recruiting decisions on are no longer an option.
Stefan Ptaszek, the head coach of McMaster Football, remarked that while many of the main talents have already been scouted for next year’s team, large high school level tournaments can give many players the opportunity to step up and get noticed by scouts. The playoffs often see several players step up on their roster and perform at a higher level. For some, these opportunities have unfortunately been lost, and with them, chances for scholarships.
The moments in the postseason when an athlete’s performance counts the most could be among the deciding factors for a player making it to the collegiate level. With regard to scholarships, for some students such deciding factors could have been the difference between attending university or not.
This was further acknowledged by Daniel Pletch, the head coach for the men’s rugby team at McMaster. He agreed with Ptsazek’s concerns that obstacles to recruitment could affect an entire incoming class of students.
“The real challenge will be the 2021 recruits, as it’s looking unlikely we’ll have a spring high school rugby season. This means identifying the top high school players will be a bigger challenge, especially finding those ‘late bloomers’, who pick up the sport later in high school, and really rely on their grade 12 seasons to develop,” Pletch said.
According to Ptaszek, around 30-50 students per year receive scholarships for their efforts on the football team, which is roughly a third or more of the entire team. It’s clear that scholarships are an integral part of university athletics. The scholarships offered for being on the football team, for example, are held if the student retains a 6.5 GPA or higher. With the added stress and mental pressure the pandemic is putting on everyone, it is not inconceivable to think that this could affect athletes’ grades due to greater mental strain and less access to campus resources.
Official sports bodies have also taken a stance on recruitment. U Sports released a statement on March 16 declaring that it was putting a three week minimum moratorium on recruitment. This would not allow any travel, in-person visits or one-on-one contact with high school athletes, furthering the difficulty to create and harvest new relationships with budding student-athletes. With that being said, “non-contact” measures such as phone calls, video conferences and social media contact are allowed.
Both Pletch and Ptsazek also made remarks about another main area which will be greatly affected: physical conditioning. Due to city closures and the need to practice physical distancing, it is harder for athletes to access commercial gyms and university athletic facilities. For example, on March 16 the McMaster Pulse announced it was shutting its doors for several weeks and that all athletics services in the David Braley Athletic Centre were also shutting down. Athletes who cannot afford outside facilities or personal equipment may find it harder to remain in shape for the season.
While public health guidelines must be adhered to in order to reduce the risk of harm as much as possible, the closure of sports, schools and athletics facilities has the potential to deeply affect the lives of student-athletes everywhere.