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U Sports changes eligibility rules and scholarship policy to encourage equity

The national brand hopes that these changes will break down barriers for athletes

On Thursday, Sept. 28, U Sports announced they are changing their Athletic Financial Awards Policy (AFA) and eligibility rules for the 2024-25 season and beyond. 

The national governing body for Canadian university sports will now only require students to be accepted to a university that participates in a U Sports league and be enrolled in degree-granting courses to be eligible to play and receive scholarships.

Currently, students are required to have an 80 per cent average to be eligible for athletic scholarships and a 60 per cent average to be eligible to play. 

“These changes intend to remove systemic barriers impacting a student-athlete’s ability to participate in U Sports and receive funding assistance for pursuing their education,” said Pierre Arsenault, U Sports chief executive officer, in a press release.

“I think overall the rule change will be better for athletes,” said Grace Calnan, a fifth-year player on the Dalhousie University women’s volleyball team. “It’s already a big adjustment for athletes coming from high school to university and not everyone has a great support system to excel academically.”

Cindy Tye, associate director for the department of athletics and recreation for Dal, as well as the head coach for the women’s soccer team, also approved of the changes. 

“It will break down some obstacles and create more opportunities to play for those that may not have met the prior requirements,” she said. 

However, Tye does not think the changes to eligibility will affect Dal students given the university’s admission standards. 

Dal’s Halifax campuses are home to the university’s U Sports teams. Currently, no Dal programs taking place in Halifax accept students with overall averages of less than 70 per cent. 

This means no first-year Dal athletes will be affected by the play eligibility rule changes, but they could benefit from the changes to scholarship eligibility. 

Regardless, this change is meant to reflect the extra time student-athletes commit to their schools, which may affect their ability to work or study.

“Between attending classes, studying, practice and competitions, it is difficult for student-athletes to hold employment in-season,” said Arsenault. “We are proud to work with our member institutions to ensure equitable opportunities for AFA support.”

Calnan spoke to this as she mentioned she was only able to work for a short period of time in high school because of her commitments to school and volleyball. 

“I didn’t [work] before that because I knew it would be a challenge balancing school, volleyball, and work,” she said. “Especially in high school, I didn’t have the organizational skills that I do now and it would’ve been very difficult for me.”

Calnan thinks awarding athletic scholarships to more players will also help first-year students adjust to university. 

“I think that students want to do well in school, but sometimes it’s not as easy for some people as for others,” she said. “Hopefully this change allows more students to be given athletic scholarships that may not receive an academic one and can make the overall first year experience less overwhelming.”

In addition to spreading out scholarships between students with different academic achievements, U Sports is also making the AFA more monetarily equitable between men’s and women’s teams. 

They are also adding a clause requiring institutions to dedicate at least 45 per cent of their scholarship units to men’s teams and at least 45 per cent to women’s teams, with the final 10 per cent to be used as the institution sees fit.

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