In light of COVID 19, many things at X will look different. Things will also look different to each individual. I have come to realize that perspective is something that remains very important in understanding these stories. A few weeks ago, I became aware that the sports teams at StFX may also begin to take a different approach given the health guidelines laid out for the province. So, I went to the man, the myth, the legend: Head Football Coach Gary Waterman for the latest.
Gary is now Head Coach of the X-Men’s Football team, here at his alma mater. Prior to his time as Head Coach, Gary was a teacher at St. Andrew’s Jr. High, also located here in Antigonish. In 2006, Gary was brought on as a Defensive Coordinator, before making his way up to Head Coach in 2009. This will be his twelfth year as Head Coach!
Gary is feeling optimistic that the team will be able to move forward with programming this year. The swift end to the academic year in March, caused issues for many things. The Football team has faced many challenges, but seem to be moving across the gridiron as a unit despite this. The Football team, Gary notes, was lucky to have done the majority of it’s recruiting for the 2020-2021 school year before the onset of COVID. All that was left to do was call players, and meet with families a few final times, which was ultimately done over zoom. Now, recruiting for the 2021-2022 year has begun. This means that information sessions with families are being hosted over zoom, as they were at the end of last year.
Health Authorities have laid out various levels of guidelines, to safeguard the safety of all student athletes. Gary says that the Football team will still be having practices, but those practices will have a deeper focus on Agility and Speed – things that can be worked on outside, and while remaining as spaced out as possible. Of course, these things give the men an opportunity to focus on different aspects of the game. Gary noted that weight training for instance will be difficult, as much of that is indoors, and would require more exhaustive protocols.
“The guys are getting creative being at home, given that many of the gyms are closed. They’ve had to keep up their strength and so that came with its challenges, but they’re working through it.”
The team was faced with issues, other than the recruitment of players. Some players, who were turning 25, began to be afraid that they would lose out on their final year of playing Football. For those of you who are unfamiliar, the governing body on university sports, ‘U-Sports’, formerly known as ‘Canadian Interuniversity Sport’, has a rule stating that football players – and only football players – are only eligible until they turn 25 years old.
“220.127.116.11 Maximum Years (all sports)
18.104.22.168.1.1 An athlete shall be allowed to participate in U SPORTS competition for five (5) academic years
22.214.171.124.1.2 Men’s Football (effective 2014-2015)
Please note, beginning in academic year of 2014-15, and subject to all other regulations, including policy 126.96.36.199.1.1 (Maximum Years), a U SPORTS football student-athlete must have been born on or after September 1 of the year specified in order to be eligible for U SPORTS football competition during the academic year indicated:
Born September 1, 1994 or subsequently; eligible for academic year 2019-20;
Born September 1, 1995 or subsequently; eligible for academic year 2020-21;
Born September 1, 1996 or subsequently; eligible for academic year 2021-22”
This rule, would have affected players, about 300 of which run out of eligibility this year. It would also have affected 1200 men who would have their years of eligibility shortened due to the restriction. Coaches would ultimately have to train players more quickly, to be able to get the best out of them before their eligibility was up. Gary noted, this Age Cap, which is unique to football, would have affected 2 players from StFX.
The Coaches Association made a recommendation to vote against the Age Cap, so that more players would be able to live out their final year of football, and more players in the future would not miss one year of playing as well. This however, did not work out, and U Sports remained firm in their ruling. Luckily for Gary, and the X-Men, the ruling was revisited, and overturned. As it stands, players who are at the Age Cap will be allowed to play their final year. The rule itself however, has not been amended, and the rule will be revisited again next year to determine if all players will receive another year of eligibility.
When speaking about whether he thinks players who are turning 25 will return or not, given that they may be graduating this year, Gary says “Some might, some may not….that will be an individual choice”. Some players slow down their academic course load so that they may be able to handle the rigors of practices, games, and course loads at the same time. This throws some people a Catch 22 – Do they graduate, as planned? Or do they return to football for a final year, and take a few courses so they may end their football careers on a high note, and run out their eligibility? It is no secret that some of the players come to StFX, in part, because of the game – a game they love.
Gary was kind enough to direct me to a player who was affected by the ‘Age Cap’ prior to the reversal of the ruling this year. Bailey Wasdal, Quarterback for the X-Men, says that he is thinking heavily about returning for another year of football. Bailey had returned to Antigonish in early July with the original plan being that he would be training for football. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, but Bailey has put his COVID-19 summer to good use. Bailey says, “I’ve been working on a research project with Shwartz, so that has been keeping me busy and just kind of enjoying summer – making trips to the beach”. Bailey is graduating this year, with a BA Honors in Accounting.
As a transfer from the University of Calgary, Bailey knows what it is like to want to play the game, and be on the verge of potentially losing the chance to do so. Bailey was playing junior football for the Calgary Colts when his eligibility ran out for that league. As a player who already had some experience, and not as many years left to play as a high school recruit, there was little chance he would play the game again. Lucky for Bailey, the X-Men had recruited a solid team that was in need of only one thing – a quarterback.
Bailey recalls that the decision to come to X was not as easy as one may have thought. Already enrolled in a university at home in Calgary, Bailey had to decide what he loved about football. Bailey says “a huge part of the game for me was having my family cheering me one, coming to games, and just the family aspect of it all.” Ultimately, Bailey decided to take Coach Waterman up on his offer. Bailey’s maturity and experience in the game was exactly what was needed to begin the season – this meant that the team would have to spend less time training a green player, and be set for the season with an already strong team.
Approaching next year, Bailey will also have to decide whether he will return to X following the completion of his degree to continue to play football. Bailey mentions that originally, the Age Cap, prior to being reversed, was “hard to take”, as in his mind, there would have been one more year of football in 2021. When the announcement was originally made that they would not extend the eligibility rule, Bailey recalls thinking ‘football is over’. This very stark final thought regarding the game he loves made it difficult to accept. Bailey says that he began “reconciling in my mind that what I had been working for and training for was going to be done, and I wasn’t going to be able to compete. Especially the big thing for me was that I wouldn’t be able to go out on my own terms, the way I wanted to go out, especially after the season that we had last year.” Bailey mentions that last year, he did not feel as though the season began - or ended - favorably, and that he was looking forward to returning for what would have been his final year to potentially go farther in the season. Bailey says that his motivation in the off season was to return on better terms, and go out on a high note game wise. He says that because of this drive there is a strong likelihood that he will return so that he may finish off his football career in a more positive note.
Bailey says that the decision to come back potentially in 2021 will be a tough one. He says,
“I will have to evaluate where I’m at in like 8 months and figure out if it makes sense for me to come back and if I have that same passion and fire to come back and put everything I have into it (football)”.
Now there’s a choice which Bailey says is nice. Bailey says it is positive to look at the situation presented for returning players in 2021, who like him, will have an undergraduate degree already, as an opportunity to pursue new challenges. Coming back for a few courses to finish off football, might be a good chance to take classes which they didn’t have time to take before, just for the sake of interest in the topic. Bailey notes that this is a great opportunity for the X-Men to use time in a different way. Explore new ways to use “energy and passion in different directions than what you had maybe been headed in before”.
As for what this year holds, Bailey notes, similarly to Waterman, that this season will look a lot different. Bailey says that Waterman has an interesting task ahead of him going into 2021-2022, in that he will be recruiting high school players and potentially players who are 25 for a final year of eligibility. Bailey is optimistic however, that the lengthy 18 month ‘off-season’ will give the X-Men a competitive edge when they return to play if used properly. As a group of players and coaches, Bailey feels that the team will either use the opportunity to progress as a team, or they’ll devolve. He feels that the team will seize the opportunity to work hard, and come back stronger. Bailey says that,
“Nobody has ever trained like this before, because we’ve never had these limitations before. Whoever can adapt the best and find the new best ways to train given what is available to us will, those will be the teams that are the best in 2021.”
Coach Waterman and Bailey Wasdal both seem optimistic that this year will be an opportunity for players to hone their skills and work hard to get ready for future seasons. Time will tell how the players adapt to the new training programs moving forward, but I look forward to seeing some life and movement on the gridiron soon.
SOURCE: U SPORTS Aug.2019
Policies and Procedures 40 – Eligibility
40-10-13 to 40-10-14