Simon Fraser University football kicker Christy Elliott recently became the first person to field and score in a college football game during team practice Tuesday, Sept. 21 in Burnaby, British Columbia of Canadian women line up to play soccer as coach Jerome Erdmann watches on, 2021. The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck
“One day the tribe will play in the Rose Bowl.” – Gordon Shrum, president of Simon Fraser University, 1965.
It was a wonderful dream in 1965. Unfortunately, the football program at Simon Fraser University never fulfilled Gordon Shrum’s dream.
It never will.
On Tuesday, SFU President and Vice Chancellor Joy Johnson announced that the institution will be discontinuing its football program after 57 years.
It’s a shocking announcement, but totally understandable.
Shrum has a vision that the SFU football program will compete with the NCAA big boys. It’s a pity that the program in 2023 is no closer to where it was when it was first launched in 1965.
There was a time when SFU’s football program was considered the best in Canada.
During the 1970’s, the then Clansmen competed with some excellent American programs in Idaho, Montana, Chico, and Eastern Washington. They produced future CFL stars such as Lui Passaglia, Glen Jackson, Terry Bailey and Nick Hebeler, to name a few.
But instead of taking the next step towards a higher level of competition, the plan stalled. For example, instead of participating in the Big Sky Conference or the Far Western Conference, SFU continues to participate in the NAIA.
There are many theories as to why the program never made it to the next level and why it ultimately failed, but the answer is simple – money.
There isn’t enough institutional, corporate or alumni support to make it a good NCAA Division 2 football program.
As much as people would like to claim that SFU is an NCAA program, in the eyes of the public and even some alumni, that is not the case.
The Washington Huskies and Oregon Ducks are NCAA — the Angelo State Rams and Texas Permian Basin Falcons are not.
I’ve played and coached at the collegiate level, and I can’t even identify with some of the schools the Red Leafs are facing right now. What should ordinary people do? Or a corporate sponsor?
Sorry, but trying to play in the NCAA is like a death sentence.
With only two other Division II schools playing football in the American West, SFU attempted to break into the Lone Star League, which primarily features Texas colleges.
Despite SFU’s affiliate membership for 2021, in early February the Lone Star Conference decided not to renew SFU’s affiliate membership for 2024.
From a business standpoint, this move will never work in the long run because the travel costs of SFU and its opponents are not feasible — not to mention the Red Leafs simply can’t compete at that level given their 18 -99 in the NCAA The record in the game can prove it.
Add in a weak Canadian dollar and you have a recipe for disaster.
So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise when the plug is pulled this week.
Surprisingly, the university administration has been relatively passive in trying to keep the program alive.
As far as I know, SFU administrators didn’t even bother to call USports to see if the football team could play under that umbrella.
Governing bodies such as the NCAA, NAIA, and USports do not accredit member universities that are members of multiple associations, but there are exceptions. For example, UBC has golf and baseball programs that compete within the NAIA, although its other teams compete in USports.
A Division 3 alternative is obviously unattractive, since SFU has to elevate all of its athletic programs to that level. Joining the Northwest Conference, which features many of SFU’s former NAIA opponents such as Pacific Lutheran Church, Puget Sound, Whitworth, and Linfield, will greatly reduce travel costs.
Likewise, one wonders how much effort went into getting the waiver.
Another option is to end the year at the Lone Star Conference — giving student-athletes the opportunity to transfer to another school at the end of the year. As it stands, most schools have handed out scholarships — for student-athletes from SFU programs looking out for the 2023 football season.
Playing in 2023 would at least buy some time for alumni to mobilize and develop a strategy to salvage the program.
But playing in 2023 would cost the university money, so the university took the easy way.
The fact that the Lone Star Conference removed SFU from its affiliate membership was a convenience to the administration.
This gives them an excuse to get rid of projects they don’t want, despite what we’ve heard from Burnaby Mountain’s policymakers.
On top of that, they never invested in football.
If they get invested, they will work harder to keep the project alive.
The fact that the government didn’t even bother to call a press conference to announce it already tells you everything you need to know.
Instead, 57 years of tradition and history ended with a press release.
Veteran BC sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice a week for Black Press Media.and check out his weekly podcast every monday in bc today or your local Black Press Media website.
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