TRU WolfPack athletics director Atkinson to call for Canada West changes, as financial worries loom

TRU WolfPack athletic director Curtis Atkinson is calling for robust conversations about major changes to Canada West programming for the 2020-2021 season.

Fundraising efforts across the conference planned for this spring and summer may be crippled by the pandemic, said Atkinson, noting plans to shorten schedules and enforce some sort of regional-play-only divisions must be considered.

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“I’ve been an advocate for a long time of divisional play, but I don’t want that message to be confused with what we’re going through right now,” Atkinson said. “These are separate issues.

“We should be looking at shortened seasons for all of our sports, but certainly, right now, all fall Canada West sports should be examined.”

One-division conferences currently in place require travel across Western Canada, costly road trips that will be less affordable without replenished program coffers.

Might there be WolfPack staff layoffs or cuts?

“I don’t feel any of that pressure right now,” Atkinson said.

“We feel very fortunate with the support we get institutionally. We have incredible leadership from our senior administration. I feel it every day.”

The WolfPack’s cross-country running program was axed last week in a financially based decision unrelated to the pandemic.

Atkinson said several Canada West colleagues share his opinions on scheduling and divisional play. Concerns will be voiced during a conference board meeting on April 2.

No definitive plans are likely to be determined at that meeting, but a video conference with member schools in May is expected to be more decisive.

“Are fall sports going to start on time? Are athletes going to have adequate time to prepare for the fall seasons?” Atkinson said. “If they don’t, we need to have a plan in place.

“When you look at the signals outside of university sport — Olympics being postponed, things of that nature— it really opens your eyes.”

The WolfPack’s spring and summer fundraising is conducted at both the program and team levels, with sport and performance camps, academy programs and a golf tournament in June among many events in jeopardy.

“When you have a pandemic, it’s far bigger than anything we do day to day, but we really value sport,” Atkinson said. “We believe in it and want to make sure we can continue to deliver what we think is a pretty exceptional student-athlete experience.

“U Sports championships have already been cancelled in some sports. How can we make decisions institutionally to make sure what we’re delivering is financially sustainable?”

Among varsity sports at TRU, soccer season comes first, with athletes normally kicking into gear around Aug. 1. Volleyball and basketball follow in September and October, respectively.

Coaches are busy long before then, but recruiting looks much different in these unprecedented times.

U Sports is enforcing a three-week moratorium on face-to-face touting that Atkinson expects to be extended.

“We have staff working from home and coaches are actively recruiting,” Atkinson said. “We’re normally in planning mode for the upcoming season. We have videoconferences with coaches and administrative staff on Wednesday.

“We understand this is far bigger than sport. We all have an incredibly important role to play. We’re trying to be responsible and do what’s in the best interest of health and safety for everyone.”

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