Awards to woo athletes

Proposed extra fees could fund

Jon Lawrance, who received an athletic financial award, says these awards offer athletes a financial incentive to pay for a university team.
Jon Lawrance, who received an athletic financial award, says these awards offer athletes a financial incentive to pay for a university team.
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If the University adopts the Athletics and Recreation Review’s recommendation to raise the athletics fee and increase external funding, much of that extra cash would go towards athletic financial awards (AFAs). The awards, given to incoming students for the first time this year, would become a larger part of the interuniversity teams’ mandate, said Leslie Dal Cin, chair of Athletics and Recreation.

“I think that [AFAs are] a reality in the recruiting game, and most teams are in a competitive framework within that,” she said, adding that the addition of the awards has yielded positive results this season, with a number of teams having successful recruiting summers.

“I think it has helped most of our teams,” she said. “The ones offering AFAs this year have reported good recruiting years. I think in part it’s due to getting a program together and being in the marketplace.”

In 2007-2008, the program’s inaugural year, the University gave $72,500 in scholarships to 37 incoming athletes. Ten students received the maximum $3,500 allowable by OUA regulations.

In total, encompassing scholarships and upper-year bursaries, the University gave $1.2 million dollars to athletes in 2006-2007.

Dal Cin said expanding the AFA program would lead to a total of $1.7 million being given out annually.

CIS-recognized sports receive the bulk of the funds, with other sports left to raise money through booster clubs and other fundraising means.

“We then invited any [non-CIS] sport who had additional funds that they could bring to the table, that they could offer AFAs as well,” Dal Cin said. “That plan would continue, but fundamental to our AFA process is that the teams are contributors, and are bringing significant dollars to the table.”

The CIS-priority sports are men’s and women’s basketball, football, men’s and women’s hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s volleyball.

Dal Cin said the effect of this year’s AFAs is hard to gauge, but the benefits will become apparent down the road.

“You do not see the results for two or three years as the athletes develop and adjust to the level of play,” she said. “For a number of programs we will see the fruits down the road.”

Jon Lawrance, a first-year Golden Gaels hockey player, received the Lou Jeffries scholarship, a $3,500 award given for the first time to an incoming player.

Lawrance, a Manitoba native who had to apply for the award, said it helps him a lot as a varsity athlete.

“It had a pretty big impact, because I could have played at home, and living at home would have been a lot cheaper,” he said.

Lawrance said universities need a financial incentive to lure hockey players from other programs.

“In hockey there are so many opportunities other than the university, with semi-pro and other leagues like that. … The more financial incentive you can get, it would definitely attract more people.”

Men’s hockey head coach Brett Gibson said more funds allocated for athletic scholarships would do wonders for the program.

“It would make all the difference for me in terms of recruiting. … Atlantic Canada has more money than any conference in the league and the West is getting stronger.”

Gibson said he has lost recruits due to greater financial aid from other places.

“Last year I only had the Lou Jeffries scholarship to offer so I definitely lost kids because of money,” he said. “These scholarships are necessary and it’s the same as in the United States. … Hopefully we keep those kids here.”

Gibson also pointed out that hockey is a sport unique to the CIS, because they’re recruiting players from organizations other than high school. Most rookies in the CIS come from major junior clubs, such as Gaels’ rookie Brady Morrison who played for the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s last season.

Queen’s basketball head coach Rob Smart said financial awards are a necessity in his sport.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to compete in men’s basketball if you don’t have financial awards,” he said, adding that Queen’s needs to get up to speed in order to compete in recruiting.

“Probably at some places they were ready to give them out faster than they were at Queen’s.”

He said although the team had a successful recruiting summer, he hasn’t seen its effects yet.

“It didn’t help us [this year] because it really didn’t come in soon enough for this class. I think in the future, it will make a big difference.”

Much of the public objection to the athletics review has been based on the notion that athletes shouldn’t be given preferential treatment over other students, who also participate in extra-curricular activities.

Women’s basketball head coach Dave Wilson doesn’t see it that way. He said he feels scholarships and bursaries give athletes the opportunity to equalize themselves with other students.

“I think what it does is it gives student athletes the opportunity to get through their education on almost a level playing surface with the rest of the student population that doesn’t have that same commitment,” he said. “A two-term sport like basketball, there’s really no way they can take a part-time job. Unfortunately, they continue to incur more debt while they’re trying to represent the University.

“To take that edge off with an athletic scholarship is really only trying to bring them to a level playing field.”

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