There's been a lot of talk the past couple of days regarding the formal announcement that the NCAA has allowed Simon Fraser University (SFU) to compete in Division II beginning this fall with all teams transitioning by 2012. I am an alumni of SFU and currently attend SFU as a post-graduate in Education, so I have followed this story for many years now.
Really, this story is a non-story. If you follow the history of SFU you will know that since its inception in 1965, SFU has always competed in the U.S. as part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). When the NAIA realigned conferences in 1997, many schools in the Pacific Northwest made the natural switch to NCAA Division II, SFU also applied to the NCAA in a bid to join Division 2 in 2000, but was rejected because of NCAA rules on international schools. Left with no other viable alternative, it was only until 2002 when SFU decided to join the Canadian Inter-university Sport (CIS). Looking back historically, SFU has therefore been competing in the U.S. for 37 years compared to just 7 years in Canada. Essentially, the NCAA is just making up for what they should have done 10 years ago, and SFU is just returning to what its always been doing.
Contrary to the Sports Illustrated article, I don't think anyone at SFU or in Vancouver has any grand expectations that SFU will ever join Division I or that this realignment will fundamentally change how athletics are organized and managed in Canada. The full scholarship situation is unique and will give SFU a good recruiting advantage over other CIS-based Canadian schools. However, the blue-chip prospects will always compete in the NCAA Division 1. When Steve Nash was playing his high school ball at St. Michaels in Victoria, he always had the option of playing for SFU, against U.S. competition, he still chose Division I Santa Clara (incidentally, Jay Triano was the head coach at SFU when Nash graduated HS).
The fact is, college athletics have never really gained much popularity among college campuses in Canada, certainly nowhere near the level of the U.S. Just to give you an example, the SFU women's basketball team just won the CIS national championship in March, yet I can bet that if you asked 10 current SFU students at random, less than half could tell you who won or name a player or the head coach. Average attendance to college football games (SFU or UBC) pale in comparison to most American high schools (or even Canadian high schools for that matter). In fact, up until this past season, SFU has played the majority of its home football games, since 1965, at a public field located a dozen miles from the SFU campus.
Additionally, anyone who has attended SFU knows that SFU is a small commuter school by most standards. SFU's student body total is roughly 25,000. More than half of its undergraduates transfer in from local community colleges. In Canada, SFU is considered a comprehensive university, differentiated from the Medical Doctoral universities because SFU does not have Faculties in Medicine or Law. Which means, SFU is not a major research institution and doesn't get the big grant money for programs like medical research (but SFU is great for programs like Business, Education, Liberal Arts). SFU does not have a fundraising machine like most Division 1 schools, nor does it have a large endowment fund, nor a particularly influential alumni group. Simply stated, SFU is not financially structured to compete in NCAA Division I athletics.
So, while I'm excited with the increased prospect of competition with U.S. schools with this latest move to the NCAA division II (especially in basketball), I have no grand illusions of how this will fundamentally "change Canadian athletics." Lets not look into it for more than it really is, this was a decision made purely out of geographical and economical reasons, which I am fine with. For the decades that SFU competed in the U.S. as part of the NAIA, Canadian athletics remained about the same as it is today, and I don't expect that status quo to change anytime soon.
P.S. The picture above is of Bruce Langford, head coach of SFU's women's basketball team. Winner of 3 CIS National Championships in the last 5 years.
Posted by bruchu Labels: *NCAA