U Sports changes position on eligibility of 25-year-old football players

Fifth-year university football players are now eligible for the 2021 season under a rule reversal by the U Sports governing body on Monday.

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University of Regina Rams linebacker Robbie Lowes was flying high after learning Monday that U Sports has made a one-year exception to its age limit regarding football players.

The original ruling, made in light of the cancellation of all fall sports due to COVID-19, had adversely affected players — Lowes being among the notable ones — who turn 25 before Sept. 1 of next year.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Lowes, who was to complete his fifth year in 2020, only to have the pandemic change everything.

“It’s also a feeling of disbelief with the rollercoaster of 2020 and the way things have been going. You come to expect the worst every now and again and this is just a breath of fresh air.”

The worst came for Lowes earlier this month when U Sports also announced that it was it was maintaining the age cap for football. That meant players who were over 25 as of Sept. 1 were deemed to have aged out of their intercollegiate sports eligibility.


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The purpose of the rule is to avoid significant differences between players in physical maturation and experience and to encourage parity among conferences.

U Sports altered its stance on Monday, stating that its football eligibility policies will be examined and reviewed by February of 2021. For now, the current 24-year-olds whose U Sports seasons may have ended prematurely have another season left of university football.

“We’re very pleased that they were able to reverse that decision,” Rams interim head coach Mark McConkey said. “I was very excited letting our team and staff know when I received that email (Monday) morning. I’m relieved and excited for those fifth-year players to have their last year back.”

The amendment impacts more than 300 players across Canada, including six with the Rams — Lowes, defensive lineman Cameron Cross, linebacker Cody Peters, receiver Sam Mike, fullback Colton Hippe and receiver Kyler Mosley.

“One of the best parts of the decision was just talking with my teammates,” Lowes said. “I’ve stayed pretty close with a lot of them, but it was weird telling them I wanted the best for them next year without us. Now it’s us again and we’re doing this thing together.”

Dick White, a former athletic director at the U of R, is U Sports’ interim chief executive officer. He was involved in the decision to reinstate the 24-year-old players.

“I’m not going to call it a reverse because it’s really a brand-new initiative,” the Regina-based White said.


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“I understand what others are saying, but for us it’s a brand-new initiative with a commitment to renew and revise the current age cap. We want to make it something better long-term that still meets our goals of creating some restrictions in the sport of football as far as age and experience goes. It will also be governed in a different way.”

Monday’s announcement gives U Sports an opportunity to address the impact of the one-year exception on the other members of the roster.

“Although we gave ourselves a deadline of until February 2021 to have the new rules in place, that wouldn’t be fair to those folks to not allow them time to plan their careers on whether they will be able to play or not and there was too much uncertainty there,” White said. “This addressed the uncertainty for the most urgent, realizing that we’ll deal with the others as we work through the new rule.”

Lowes appreciated learning his fate in July, as opposed to waiting until February.

“It’s nice to know that we have something to look forward to,” Lowes said.

McConkey can also look forward to having his fifth-year players fill the important roles on the Rams.

“Having a fifth-year guy on a team is huge,” McConkey said. “They’ve been in the program for a while, whether it’s coming out of high school or junior. It’s huge for the younger players because they learn as much from the older guys who have been on the team for a while as they do from coaches. It’s great to have them back.”