Sue Hylland
Varsity Athletics has been working at the national and conference level regularly. Image: Ellen Bond/Fulcrum.
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With teams unable to compete, time is being used to focus on other important issues

2020 has not been easy for university sports. Across the country, we’ve seen cancellation of leagues, championship tournaments, and for a while, teams were unable to even train together. Through all this, what has the University of Ottawa’s Varsity Athletics management been up to?

Sue Hylland, the director of Varsity Athletics at the U of O touched on numerous projects the department has been working on throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Ensuring student experience remains a priority and keeping programs and teams operating are both focal points. 

“A big part of what we’ve been doing is managing how we can deliver our sports programming on campus during the pandemic. We’ve created a Varsity COVID Implementation Committee charged with implementing our Varsity Reintegration Plan on campus,” said Hylland. “We’ve been operating on campus since mid-July. It has been very successful and uOttawa has been very supportive.”

Other tasks include on-going meetings with U Sports and the provincial conferences Gee-Gees teams play in, working to address critical social issues like the Black Lives Matter movement and adapting to a new structure under Student Affairs. 

“At the same time, we’ve been working at the national and conference levels regularly looking to the future.”

“We [have] to figure out how we can move forward next season to compete. Those conversations are happening at the national level, and in our conferences in Quebec and Ontario.”

While Gee-Gees teams have been unable to compete as they normally would, teams have been able to practice and train under rules and regulations set out by Ottawa Public Health and the U of O.

The loss of sport competition on campus has not only affected teams, but without notable games like the Panda Game, Colonel By Classic, or Capital Hoops, students and alumni miss out on times where it’s exciting to come together as Gee-Gees.

“It has been hard for students, student athletes, coaches, employees. It hasn’t been an easy year to miss out on that competitive piece, but at least we were able to allow our student-athletes and our programs to continue operating on campus as much as we can,” Hylland said.

Without the normal planning of close to two hundred events on campus, Varsity Athletics has been able to turn its attention to things they were unable to really focus on regularly.

“Some of this time has maybe allowed us to get to projects and plans we haven’t been able to get to because we’re hosting so many events a year,” Hylland said.

“We’ve been doing work around the Black Lives Matter movement, but fell short here. There is much more to be done, and we are working with our Black leaders, coaches and students, to build a strong plan of action that contributes to the much needed societal change we all want in this area,” Hylland said.

In addition, time has been spent making sure the change from U of O Sports Services to Varsity Athletics is not missing any details. Varsity Athletics includes operations of the 32 sport programs, Alumni Development, IT, Events and Sports Info.

“We are really spending time taking a look at the structure to see if there are any gaps with the change we made from Sports Services to Varsity Athletics. Yes, during the pandemic and because we are not competing, there have been vacant positions and we have deployed some staff from one sector to another to fill a gap in the short term, but the plan is to get back to normal soon,” Hylland said.

Without sports, there is a lot missing from some students’ university experience. But Hylland reaffirms that Varsity Athletics are using their time to ensure teams can still operate safely in the future.

“We’ll be back at one point competing,” Hylland said. “Maybe we don’t have as many games, maybe we adapt our conferences so there’s no overnighting. It’s all being looked at now. But we will be back.”

“Our overall vision is to be perennial national championship contenders. This can only be done if we show success both on and off the field. We want student-athletes leaving the University of Ottawa having had a great experience that helps them grow as individuals and good citizens.”