Simon Fraser University’s Football program was canceled on April 4. Anyone following along is highly aware of the vast response in opposition to this decision in the Canadian football universe.
CFL owners and GMs, players, fans, parents, players, and mayors have all voiced their belief that this decision is completely wrong. BC Lions’ owner, Amar Doman, has even offered financial support.
The program was canceled due to the fact that it will not be reinvited to the Lone Star Conference in 2024. However, they still had a place to play for 2023, during which time they can try to find a new home.
There was hope in the football community that the decision could potentially be reconsidered after all the feedback from the community advising the team to continue to play, but the SFU administration has been steadfast in its decision to cancel the program.
I reached out to Simon Fraser University to inquire if there is any change in strategy following all the public responses as it is believed to not be in the best interest of the student-athletes and is unfair to them. It is already too late to salvage the upcoming season elsewhere for most of them.
“We understand this decision has been challenging to hear and has a significant impact on the community. Our priority remains supporting student-athletes and are actively providing guidance and support on the next steps, whether they choose to stay or leave SFU.” Braden McMillan responded SFU Director, Media Relations and Public Affairs.
“After learning in January 2023 that the Lone Star Conference Council of Presidents voted not to renew their affiliate agreement with SFU, discussions were held with some members of the coaching staff and key alumni regarding potential options moving forward. The university also met with sport leaders across the collegiate landscape including in the NCAA, USports and NAIA.”
Simon Fraser University has created a narrative in which they have done everything they can, however, it is publicly evident that there was a limited level of effort to keep the program alive beyond conversation.
“At the time the decision was made, the team already did not have a full roster due to the uncertainty created when it became clear that we would not have a place to play beyond 2023. We knew that some student-athletes would move to other teams once they knew this was the final season. We did not want student-athletes to feel pressured to stay when the right thing for them to do is to find another team. Once it was clear that there was no feasible option to continue the football program, we were committed to informing the athletes and coaches as soon as possible.” McMillan’s statement continued.
I pointed out that playing with a smaller roster could in fact be a benefit for players to get an increase in playing time to showcase their skills to prospective football teams for their future after 2023. They currently have 81 players listed on their roster. I asked why they would not be open to the possibility of playing with a smaller roster for 1 last year. I did not receive a response.
“As noted above, our focus right now remains on our football student-athletes. We are holding meetings with the players and are actively supporting those who wish to transfer to other universities and other teams. There are other student-athletes who have chosen to remain registered and to complete their academic programs at SFU. We are supporting their individual needs, including continuing their athletic scholarships for the entirety of their academic journey at SFU.” McMillan stated.
It raises the question that if there truly is such a focus on the football student-athletes, why would a university cancel the program a year earlier than necessary when there were no obstacles to play in 2023?
This decision was made to the surprise of players and coaches who have already participated in Spring Camp to prepare for the upcoming season. There were even football scholarship offers still being made in March. It is no surprise that there was no communication by Simon Fraser in advance of their intention to cancel the football program with the Lone Star Conference.
“There was no advance warning. We have been assured by the Simon Fraser University administration their decision is final.” Greg Weghorst Stated, Lone Star Conference Associate Commissioner of Communications.
“Our member institutions have moved on and are working hard to fill the voids left in their 2023 schedules.”
It would seem that an extremely convincing argument would need to be made to the Lone Star Conference should SFU Football be allowed to reverse its decision and play in the LSC. The football program was canceled late in the off-season at a time when it becomes difficult to fill the void left in the 9 other LSC football teams.
The other members of the Lone Star Conference and the LSC itself may very well feel disrespected by Simon Fraser University and trust could be a limited commodity. Even if SFU wants to resume play in the LSC, it would require a lot of forgiveness and grace from other parties.
Simon Fraser University has not made an application to join USports. USports does have a rule saying that schools need to participate in all of their sports in USports.
“Pursuing an exemption for football only would be very complex, it’s unprecedented,” SFU Athletic Director Theresa Hanson had previously stated in an interview with BurnabyNow.
As pointed out by TSN reporter Farhan Lalji the fact that Simon Fraser was the only non-US School to join the NCAA was also unprecedented.
For whatever reason the current administration is completely unwilling to even apply to play USports and has continued to demonstrate a lack of desire and unwillingness to find a way to keep SFU football alive.
USports Conference, Canada West issued a statement saying regarding the decision by SFU and reiterated where their application status is outlined.
Simply being open for application is not enough for USports to help SFU football. USports needs to fill out the application on behalf of SFU football. Not because they have any obligation to do so, but because it is the right thing to do and to try to further help the neglected student-athletes and the historic program that is SFU football.
These young men signed on to play for Simon Fraser University to play football entrusting that SFU would honor their end of the agreement. Their parents entrusted SFU to take care of their sons as they enter the adult world, giving them a place to play football and earn an education.
To see a program suddenly cancel a year early when the program still had a place to play is negligent and reckless. It abandons its obligation to participate in the Lone Star Conference as it had previously agreed to. It almost comes across as a retaliatory measure to sabotage the existing LSC schedules for 2023 in response to not being included in 2024. As the lone Canadian representative in the SFU, it creates an embarrassing look for Canada.
The decision puts the 80+ student-athletes in a serious bind, a year of their football careers is erased. Their NCAA eligibility is not used if they don’t play this year, they may choose to pick up and play the rest of their NCAA eligibility elsewhere but then they are faced with deciding if they wish to begin their careers a year later in life than they would otherwise.
The handling of the football team’s sudden early cancellation also hurts the reputation of the athletic program as a whole under the current administration. Future student-athletes in other programs will see how the football team was treated and take that into consideration for what school they will commit to.
If USports is willing to make an exception for SFU Football to join Canada West without the other sports joining USports, they need to fill out the application for them. Canada West would need to publicly state what steps SFU now needs to take to participate in the acceptance of their application. To do so would be done from a place of grace and compassion to help the student-athletes affected and help fight the destruction of one of Canada’s historic football programs.
The current administration at SFU has not done themselves any favors for their own reputation and the willingness of other organizations to work with them after abandoning their previous obligations with the Lone Star Conference. If USports is to hold the SFU administration’s hand to save the football program, it would be a selfless and honorable act that could strengthen Canadian football for generations to come.
Please note that any written and or perceived criticisms are my own opinion.
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