Costs hold back interconference play

Several schools would like to see national schedules, but price of travel is a deterrent

According to representatives from Canadian Interuniversity Sport and schools across the country, money is the only thing standing in the way of increased exhibition and regular-season interconference competition.

University of Calgary interim director of athletics Kevin Boyles told the Journal in an e-mail that he doesn’t think CIS will ever go to a national football schedule due to the cost involved.

“I don’t think this idea will ever fly in Canada,” he said. “Most schools and football programs could never afford the cost of the travel. … For football, you would probably have to at least double up a travel budget that is already well over $100,000 for the programs in Canada West.”

Boyles said a national schedule works for NCAA football thanks to its revenue streams, but CIS football doesn’t bring in enough money to make it possible.

“This concept works in the States where TV and gate revenues fund entire athletic departments and even provide academic revenue,” he said. “In Canada, university sport is viewed much differently and there is significant cost involved for a school to take part in football, with no reasonable expectation of recovering corresponding revenue.”

University of Western Ontario acting director of athletics Chuck Mathies told the Journal via e-mail that the shift from bus trips to plane trips in itself would make the costs of a national schedule prohibitive in any sport.

“The cost of flying itself will be a huge issue,” he said. “[It’s] too expensive to consider within our current financial framework.”

The University of Saskatchewan hosted the Concordia University Stingers in a pre-season football game this year and helped to pay some of their travel costs. The Globe and Mail reported that Saskatchewan lost close to $7,000 on the game. Athletics Director Basil Hughton said those numbers weren’t accurate, but they did lose money on the game.

“There was a bit of a cost to us in the end to do this,” he said.

Hughton said increasing the number of interconference exhibition games each year would be the first step towards a national schedule.

“Probably non-conference exhibitions would be the way this would start,” he said. “I know there’s talk nationally, in football for sure.”

Teams from Quebec and Atlantic universities already play an interlocking schedule in football. Hughton said it might be possible for Canada West teams to interlock for a couple of games each year against Ontario teams.

“This would be something maybe Canada West and Ontario could get together on,” he said.

Hughton said financial concerns arising from the increased travel have to be taken into account, but increased interconference games would benefit CIS as a whole.

“Certainly the drawback is cost, but the advantages would be increasing the competitive opportunities, the chances to see different teams and working together for the benefit of college sports in Canada,” he said.

Michel Belanger, the CIS communications and media relations manager, said in an e-mail that national schedules are often discussed, but financial concerns have prevented their implementation at this point.

“It’s discussed pretty much every year at CIS coaches association meetings, and it is also discussed from time to time at the administrative level,” he said. “But again, it always comes down to money.”

Belanger said there have always been a lot of interconference exhibition games in sports such as basketball and volleyball, but they’re starting to become more popular in football.

“In football, most schools still play their pre-season games within their own conference,” he said. “But we’re starting to see a change as well, especially from the top programs, which want to compare themselves against the other top programs in the country.”

Belanger said the main challenge to a national football regular-season schedule is financial.

“The main obstacle in football is money, because every time you travel you’re talking about a group of about 60-65 people,” he said. “It works now between Quebec and Atlantic because they bus to games, so basically it’s no worse than Ottawa travelling to Windsor, but when you start flying, that’s when it becomes really costly.”

But, he said, a national schedule would dramatically improve CIS’s ability to market its product.

“Would it help marketing of CIS football? There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said. “The marketing and promotional benefits are obvious, so are the competitive benefits.”

Queen’s football head coach Pat Sheahan said he’d love to see a national schedule, and he thinks many of his fellow head coaches would agree.

“I think the coaches are all for it,” he said. “That would generate a lot of interest in the sport.”

Sheahan said there are issues that need to be addressed first, but they’re not insurmountable.

“I realize there’s an expense issue and there’s some scheduling issues,” he said. “That doesn’t represent a challenge that can’t be overcome if you think interuniversity football should be part of the culture. … It’s a financial thing, but certainly if the opportunity came forward, we’d be interested in it.”

Men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis said she’d be in favour of more exhibition games against teams from other conferences, particularly Canada West. Canada West teams have won 36 of the last 42 national championships in men’s volleyball, including the past 14.

“The more we can play Canada West teams, the better we’re going to get,” she said.

Queen’s already plays several exhibition games in men’s volleyball, including an annual tournament in Florida that features top schools from across the CIS and the NCAA.

Willis said she isn’t sure a national regular-schedule is the way to go, though, as the extra costs involved might force some schools to abandon their volleyball programs.

“My fear would be that there would be a real tiered system,” she said. “I’d be concerned that too many schools would drop the sport.”

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