Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor

As local businesses, schools and social gatherings face cancellations in response to the COVID-10 pandemic, major sports organizations have also been braving turbulent changes.

The four major national sports in North America — basketball, baseball, hockey and football — have all been greatly affected by the virus. The original plan was to have games continue, but not allow fans or unnecessary personnel near games.

In theory, this was a great idea; it would have allowed for play to continue and the multi-billion dollar industry to continue creating some revenue, such as through television ads. However, when the first pro athlete, Rudy Gobert, the center for the Utah Jazz, contracted the virus, this idea went out the window along with any hope of play to continue. After the NBA cancelled games, the rest of the sports world soon followed suit.

As the days progress, more professional athletes are testing positive for COVID-19. This has been attributed to athletes' consistent travels from city to city for games and practices, which makes them more susceptible to contracting the virus and spreading it. 

It has been suggested that the best way to mitigate exposure and transmission of the virus is for athletes to restrict travel and self-quarantine. 

When I read the reports of the National Basketball Association postponing its season for a minimum of 30 days, subject to change depending on the future state of the virus, and the National College Athletics Association ending all of its national tournaments for the year, I wondered how this may affect Canadian university sports. As updates and articles shared information about major sports leagues, the Ontario University Athletics and U Sports had yet to release statements on how they were going to factor the coronavirus into their decision-making.

University and college cancellations across Ontario began on March 12 and 13 with Western University, McMaster University, Mohawk College and others cancelling in-person classes and student events for the remainder of the semester. The U Sports association then followed suit, cancelling that weekends’ scheduled national championships in volleyball and hockey, but continuing with the curling championships.

U Sports’ championships require competing varsity teams to travel to chosen host locations. The volleyball championship was set to take place in Winnipeg and Calgary over the weekend of March 14 to 16 and the hockey championships to take place in Halifax and Charlottetown over that same weekend. 

Both of these tournaments were expecting teams from across the country to attend, from British Columbia to Prince Edward Island. This potentially heightened the risk of spreading the virus. To limit the spread of COVID-19, Canadians have been advised to avoid international non-essential travel; while the travel measures announced on March 16 did not include domestic flights, the situation is continuously changing from day to day. Recently, airlines such as Air Canada began suspending domestic flights. 

This begs the question of why the U Sports National Championships for curling were not cancelled. This tournament involved universities from all over the country such as McMaster University, University of Dalhousie and the University of Alberta, and took place the very same weekend as the aforementioned volleyball and hockey tournaments. 

At the time of writing this article, U Sports had yet to post any material on their social media to answer those questions or comment on why they made contradictory decisions to cancel volleyball and hockey tournaments, while continuing the curling championships. 

After having reached out to U Sports for a statement, John Bower of U Sports stated that the curling championships had been in line with government regulations at the time.

The total number of participants in the Curling championship was inferior to the 250 established by the Government of Manitoba on Thursday and therefore was allowed by the Province to continue and had begun prior to the cancellation of the hockey and volleyball championships,” said Bower. 

It is important to keep in mind that the volleyball championships, which were also planned to take place in Manitoba, and the hockey championships in Prince Edward Island were cancelled.

The following was the response to my questions about their tournament handlings:

As stated by Bower from U Sports.

While these precautions seemed to be adequate at the time of the curling tournament’s start date on March 10, the tournament would go on to see play for another five days. All the players and potential companions travelled in and out of the province over this time. 

The representative from U Sports said that Curling Canada was able to guarantee a safe and secure environment for the curling championships to take place. As we have seen the pandemic continue to spread, it seems that it would have been very difficult to guarantee anything. The tournament should have been shut down.

The U Sports national championships was not alone in the building. The event coincided with the Senior Men’s and Women’s Championships, the Canad Inns Canadian Mixed Doubles Championships and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA)/Curling Canada Championships. 

The amount of people at any given time in the arena might have been under the mandated 250 person limit, but this limit became quickly outdated as the Centre for Disease Control lowered the limit to no more than 50 people just one day after the tournament finished on March 16. Considering the curling teams, general fans and family members that were in attendance, it is unlikely that this limit was adhered to during the tournament. 

The first red flag was that this tournament was continued while the other national tournaments were cancelled. The second red flag was that there was no postponing or cancelling as the tournament progressed. Just as COVID-19 spread across the country, the red flags spread across this event. 


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Photos C/O Sachi Chan 

There is a tendency in basketball to think big. It used to be true that the bigger the player was, the greater the advantage. Think of Shaquille O’Neal. He was one of, if not the, most dominant player in National Basketball Association history. Quite frankly, the reason why he was so dominant was because he was bigger and stronger than everyone else. Makes sense, right?

While it might be true that height is an asset in a game with a ten-foot net, there are ways to challenge this. With the increasing move from the paint to the arc, teams are looking for other opportunities to make buckets.

The value of height in basketball was challenged following the recent NBA trade deadline, after which the Houston Rockets became the smallest team in the league, with no players over six foot seven. This is very different from the rest of the league. Only the tallest player on the Rockets meets the league-wide average height of six foot seven.

Remarkably, a total of 11 per cent of the league is over seven feet tall, so you’d think the six foot seven center on the Rockets would have a tough time guarding opponents.What the Houston Rockets are doing is referred to as small ball, and to any Ontario University Athletics fan, this is very familiar.

OUA teams have been playing small ball for quite some time. Out of the teams who choose to disclose the height of their players, only 25 players in all of the OUA are over six foot seven. The average height between all 25 players over six foot seven comes in at six foot eight and a half. In addition, the OUA has only two players who are seven feet or taller. To give context, there is a minimum of 15 players per team and a total of 20 teams in the league, with the largest rosters reaching just under 20 players. 

Clearly, the OUA is a much smaller league than the NBA, which recruits top-notch talent from around the world. However, the OUA is still significantly smaller when compared to other collegiate level athletics associations. The National Collegiate Athletics Association, for example, regularly hosts talent above seven feet on many of their division one programs,. 

The OUA’s shorter roster leads to faster-paced games that are focused on shooting or quick cuts to the hole rather than focused on slow, grinding out offence with bigs backing down the defence. The big man is more or less non-existent for the OUA. In fact, there are even teams without any players over six foot five, like the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks. Having shorter players means that scoring can't come from big men with their backs to the basket. Instead, these teams must rely on skilled shooting.

The smaller teams and faster pace does make for exciting basketball, and certainly higher scoring games due to more three-point shots, but is this good for basketball? With the NBA getting perpetually smaller and the OUA looking the same, we have to ask ourselves, is this the future of basketball?

It very well could be, especially if the OUA embraces the strategies of teams like the Houston Rockets.

Positionally, the OUA plays to traditional roles of basketball. While there are exceptions, the majority of centers in the OUA play like centers of the past like Hakeem Olajuwon or Shaquille O’Neal, and leave the shooting to the guards. These are the fundamentals of basketball, but rules are meant to be broken and the innovative are rewarded.

Let’s look at our Marauders to see how they shoot from three. They do not prioritize three-pointers, with top scorers Jordan Henry and Kwasi Adu-Poku taking less than a third of their attempts from beyond the arc. But should they continue this way? Working on the three-pointer is a tough task, but well worth the time.

Pounding the paint is tried and true, but with the emergence of smaller teams and the continuing reign of the three-pointer in professional leagues, the OUA has room to adapt. They could benefit from taking  advantage of the smaller skilled players they inevitably have and go all-in on small ball.

In order to be more successful, coaches could stand to benefit from taking notes from the pros and start experimenting more from the three-point line. This could help to crack the scoring code that many famous players like Steph Curry and James Harden use, and ultimately lead to long-term success.

Any team in sports history that was ahead of the curve has been considered a wild card, whether it was “Dr. J” dunking or the Golden State Warriors changing basketball by making their team all about the three ball. As they say in Vegas, you have to bet a lot to win a lot. In this case, the OUA should play small to win big.


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Photos by Sachi Chan / Contributor 

If you’ve been following the men’s basketball team this year, you’ll know they’ve been on a hot streak so far with a winning percentage of .750. This can in large part be attributed to Jordan Henry’s monstrous season so far.

Henry’s second-year leap resembles that of Luka Dončić’s, the latter going from All-Rookie player in the National Basketball Association and the former going from All-Rookie in the country, to doing it all and scoring at will on the court in their sophomore seasons. Henry is averaging 21.7 points per game, achieving the fourth-most PPG in the province. Even more astonishing is that Henry is only 0.2 points away from being third for PPG in the OUA. Usually, veteran players hold the top spots for PPG in the OUA. Henry is one of two players in the top five in PPG that is in their second year or below. 

He may play for U sports in Canada at the moment, but Henry also has loose ties to the NBA. He played on the same team as RJ Barrett during the 2017 U19 Fédération internationale de basket World Cup, where Canada took home the gold medal.

Henry also ranks first among the Marauders in points, assists, steals and minutes played, while also ranking in the top five for the maroon and grey in rebounds, three-point percentage, free throw percentage and field goal percentage with players who have attempted over 10 field goals.

The Marauders have nearly matched their win total from the previous season — and it’s not even halfway through the year yet. Mcmaster currently has nine wins and three losses while last year they had a sub .500 win percentage with 12 wins and 14 losses by the end of the season. 

Perhaps what is most remarkable is Henry has accounted for nearly 25 per cent of the maroon and grey’s points so far, having scored 260 points out of the team’s total of 1038. After making not only the OUA first-team All-Rookie but also the U sports first-team All-Rookie last year, it would surprise no one if our star guard made the overall U sports first team this year.

However, RJ Barrett’s former teammate is definitely not the only thing this team has going for it. Head coach Patrick Tatham and his staff have assembled a team that is not only performing at the moment, but will also blow the competition away for years to come. Looking at the roster, it’s hard not to notice that eight out of the 17 players on the team are in their second year and four are in their first year, leaving years of greatness ahead for the team. 

This could be the year the Marauders finally take home the W.P. McGee trophy. First introduced in 1963, the trophy is awarded to the top ball team across Canada’s ten provinces and three territories. However, even though it’s been around for nearly 60 years, McMaster has never been able to bring it home, even though they’ve come second five times. Our last appearance in the final game of the season was in 1998. 

Will this year be the first time in school history we take the W.P. McGee trophy? Who knows. But it’s definitely possible. Catch the team at their next game against the Western University Mustangs on Jan. 18, right at home in Burridge.


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