The Canadian football community has mounted a major effort to help preserve a college football program in that country after school leaders announced its immediate shutdown this week.
Simon Fraser University on Tuesday announced the closure of their football program, the only one in Canada playing American college football in the NCAA. The school, located in Burnaby, B.C., just outside Vancouver, made the decision in response to their league, the NCAA’s Division II Lone Star Conference, based in Texas, terminating their membership in that league following the 2023-24 school year. That membership, which only lasted a couple of seasons, was canceled likely due to logistical challenges for the league’s Texas-based schools in crossing the Canadian border to play games; about half of SFU’s home games last fall, as we reported at that time in Liberty Park Press, had to be moved to a United States high school stadium in northwest Washington state as a result of then-border crossing restrictions imposed by the Canadian government to fight the spread of COVID-19.
School president Joy Johnson, in a statement posted to the school’s website, indicated this decision didn’t come easy. “This is a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly. With the recent announcement that the team has not been invited to continue in the Lone Star Conference, we do not have a conference to play in beginning in 2024. The ongoing uncertainty creates an unacceptable experience for students. The university has carefully considered all available options and as a leadership team we concluded that football is no longer a feasible sport for SFU,” Johnson wrote in the statement.
Reaction in Canada has, as noted, been significant, and many are angry at the decision. A group representing Canadian college athletes, called the Canadian Student-Athlete Association, today called on Canadian college athletic leaders to come up with a solution allowing the university to play football within the Canadian university system while maintaining its membership in the NCAA in other sports. In a letter sent to leaders from both the USports organization, Canada’s version of the United States’ NCAA, and the Canada West league which is part of USports, the head of the student-athlete group, Garrett Holmes, made that request. “The Canadian Student-Athlete Association strongly urges SFU to reconsider the finality of its decision and to engage in discussions with USports/Canada West (and if necessary the NCAA) with a goal to negotiate an exemption allowing SFU football to join USports/Canada West while also allowing SFU to continue to participate in 18 other NCAA sports,” Holmes wrote in the letter. This proposed solution is likely to be the only viable option to save the program as the school is not expected to find another NCAA Division II league to play in and is not likely to be successful as an independent team within that division.
There are two other schools in the northwest U.S. that are also part of the Lone Star league – Central Washington University and Western Oregon University – and this decision could spark conversations at both of those schools about the future of their programs. The membership for both schools in the LSC continues unaffected by Simon Fraser’s decision, but could change in the future.
The fight to save the Red Leaf program (that is what SFU’s teams are nicknamed) has also caught the attention of both the Canadian Football League’s commissioner, Randy Ambrosie, and the owner of Vancouver’s team in that pro league, the British Columbia Lions, Amar Doman, with Doman making a statement on Twitter that he intends to do whatever it takes to save the program. Additionally, alumni are mounting a petition campaign online asking fans for their support as well.
Players impacted by this shutdown are free to transfer elsewhere, and that was, according to the school, one of the reasons they chose to make this decision now – to allow the players ample opportunity to find new opportunities elsewhere if they so chose.