Canadian schools could go south

NCAA Division II votes to begin pilot program that could see Canadian teams compete in U.S.

Annika Green (left) goes up for a block in the women’s straight-sets win over the Royal Military College Paladins Wednesday.
Image by: Don Lougheed
Annika Green (left) goes up for a block in the women’s straight-sets win over the Royal Military College Paladins Wednesday.

A landmark decision reached Monday could drastically alter interuniversity sport in Canada. Delegates at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II conference voted 258-9 to begin a pilot program that could see Canadian schools join the NCAA.

Two prominent Canadian schools, the University of British Colombia and Simon Fraser University, are considering applying to the NCAA, and the Associated Press reported Monday that four other Canadian schools have been discussing the possibility.

It’s unlikely Queen’s will consider the NCAA in the near future, according to a Queen’s Athletics statement Sports Information Officer Michael Grobe e-mailed to the Journal. Chair of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin was unavailable for comment.

“The choice to participate in the NCAA would be an extremely complex decision with many implications,” the statement said. “Queen’s University has not held any discussions on this matter and has no immediate plans to do so.  It should be noted that such a decision would need to be institutional in nature and it would take significant consideration by several stakeholders to determine if Queen’s would explore this type of option.”

Women’s soccer head coach Dave McDowell said he hopes UBC decides to remain in the CIS. The women’s soccer team lost to UBC in the 2006 national

championship match.

“I don’t think we would like to see them go,” he said. “To win a national championship, you’d like to beat the best teams in the country, and they’re one of those.”

McDowell said he can see the attraction for UBC, though. “In some ways, certainly, the NCAA is seen as glamorous and money-making,” he said. “I guess it’s to each their own.”

UBC Associate Director of Athletics Theresa Hampson told the Journal UBC was thrilled with the overwhelming support the NCAA showed for potential Canadian members.

“We feel really good about it,” she said. “It’s something we’ve been working on for a couple years.”

Hampson said UBC’s mainmotive for considering NCAA membership is the ability to offer “full-ride”—tuition plus room and board—scholarships, unlike in Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) competition, where athletic scholarships can only pay for tuition.

“It’s about the student-athletes,” she said. “We want to keep the best student-athletes in Canada, and one way to do that is full-ride scholarships.”

Hampson said UBC will go through a consultation process involving students and student-athletes before deciding whether to join, but the time frame is short. In order for schools to be accepted as provisional members for the 2009-10 season and full members thereafter, they must submit their applications to the NCAA by June 1, 2008. Hampson said UBC’s targeting this deadline.

One obstacle facing schools such as UBC and SFU is some of the NCAA conferences they could join don’t offer such major sports as hockey and football. Hampson said UBC will have to look at their programs individually before deciding whether to apply.

“We need to look at it on a sport-by-sport basis,” she said.

Nello Angerilli, SFU’s associate vice-principal (students and international) and acting director of athletics, said joining the NCAA would bring SFU back to its roots.

“When the university was created in 1965, a management decision was made to compete in the U.S.,” he said. “From 1965-98, our competition was entirely in the U.S. In the mid to late ‘90’s, the conference we were playing in in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics), collapsed and teams moved to the NCAA.”

Angerilli said SFU tried to follow their competitors into the NCAA in 1999, but their application was rejected. The NCAA has shown more interest in accepting Canadian schools lately, which Angerilli said has rekindled SFU’s attraction to the league.

Angerilli said SFU feels Division II offers a higher level of competition than CIS in several sports.

“Our interest is to find the best possible situation to compete in,” he said, adding that the ability to provide full-ride scholarships isn’t a factor, as SFU isn’t sure they can afford to spend to the NCAA’s scholarship limits.

“That is absolutely not our interest,” he said. “We feel the [scholarship] flexibility provided by CIS is adequate.”

Some have proposed letting UBC and SFU compete in CIS for certain sports and in the NCAA for others. The NCAA allows dual memberships with other organizations, but CIS may be less accommodating.

A CIS press release issued after the NCAA’s decision Monday said the dual membership decision will be determined by the CIS membership in June 2008, but the CIS board will recommend against dual membership.

CIS Chief Executive Officer Marg McGregor told the Journal losing a school with UBC’s athletics pedigree would be a severe blow for CIS.

“Certainly we don’t want to lose UBC at all,” she said. “They are a valued member of CIS: they’ve hosted championships, won championships, supported national programs. We don’t want them to go.”

McGregor said UBC and SFU are the only schools she knows of that are seriously considering leaving at the moment.

One of the key issues if universities decide to leave would be reallocating championships, McGregor said. UBC’s already slated to host rugby and swimming championships in the next few years, which would have to be moved if UBC was no longer a CIS member.

McGregor said CIS is conducting a member satisfaction survey later this year to determine the concerns of member schools.

There are already NCAA conferences competing for the potential new members.

Bob Hogue, a former state senator for Hawaii and the NCAA’s Pacific West Conference commissioner, told the Journal he’s overjoyed to see the pilot program approved.

“I think it’s outstanding, both for the Canadian schools and NCAA Division II,” he said. “It’s a perfect match.”

Hogue said his conference is seeking new members, and he has met with UBC officials to discuss membership.

“We’re in expansion mode right now,” he said. “We’re looking at schools that would be a good fit.”

UBC’s more than 35,000 undergraduate students make it almost five times the size of the average PacWest school. However, PacWest Conference Information Director Tom DiCamillo said size may help recruitment in CIS play, but doesn’t give schools an unfair advantage in NCAA play, as they are all subject to the same scholarship restrictions.

The Great Northwest Athletic Conference has also been wooing Canadian schools. Conference commissioner Richard Hannon told the Journal he also supports the pilot program.

“I’m a big fan of it,” he said. “There are a lot of questions that have to be answered, but I view it as a real positive opportunity for us.”

Hannon said his conference, which has members in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Alaska, is particularly interested in adding schools such as UBC and SFU that have football programs: a few of his current schools are dropping football.

Hannon said he has already met with representatives from both UBC and SFU.

“[The talks have] been very, very positive.”

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