End of an era: Simon Fraser University eliminates football program

Photo courtesy: Simon Fraser Football

Simon Fraser University has discontinued its football team effective immediately.

“Given Simon Fraser University’s long and proud football history, this is a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly, ” said SFU president Joy Johnson in a statement. “I want to thank all the student-athletes and coaches, past and present, for being part of that history. However, the football landscape has changed significantly in recent years and we no longer believe we are providing an exceptional experience for student-athletes.”

The Red Leafs moved to the Lone Star Conference (LSC) this past season and posted a 1-9 record, defeating only West Texas A&M. In February, the school announced that the LSC hadn’t renewed its membership beyond the 2023 season, calling it “difficult news” that was “disappointing” for the players, staff, and the athletics department.

The school cited the lack of a conference in which to play as a primary reason for its decision to close the football program, pointing out that only two other NCAA Division II programs exist west of Colorado.

Simon Fraser competed in the Great Northwest Atlantic Conference (GNAC) of NCAA Division II from 2010 to 2021, posting a 17-91 record. The club competed in U Sports from 2002 to 2009 during which it went 16–47–2 with one appearance in the Uteck Bowl. Before 2002, Simon Fraser competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) from 1965 to 2001.

The school partnered with the University of British Columbia this past season to bring back the Shrum Bowl, an annual rivalry game between the two programs that ran most years from 1967 to 2010. The Thunderbirds defeated the Red Leafs by a score of 18-17 under American rules, ending a three-game losing streak that dated back to 2008. This year’s Shrum Bowl was to be played on Friday, Dec. 1 under Canadian rules.

The Shrum Bowl was sponsored by the B.C. Lions, who released a statement on Tuesday expressing their disappointment regarding Simon Fraser’s decision to eliminate their football program.

“The B.C. Lions are deeply saddened and disappointed to hear the news about Simon Fraser University’s football program. Today’s news impacts several dedicated individuals, in particular the student-athletes, coaches, staff, countless volunteers, parents and, of course, alumni, who tirelessly dedicated themselves to the SFU program,” the Lions wrote in a statement.

“The long and rich history included a very proud chapter that highlights its bond with our team and league. … The B.C. Lions will continue to do everything we can to support amateur football at all levels in this province.”

The list of notable Simon Fraser alumni includes Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees such as Lui Passaglia, Dan Ferrone, Glen Suitor, Dave Cutler, and Doug Brown as well as current CFL players Michael Couture, Lemar Durant, Jordan Herdman-Reed, Justin Herdman-Reed, Rysen John, and Ante Milanovic-Litre.

The school has indicated that it will honour athletic scholarship commitments for football players for the 2023-2024 academic year and provide guidance for those who wish to transfer to other programs to continue playing in the future.

Simon Fraser was founded in 1965 and is based in Burnaby, B.C., though it also has campuses in Surrey and Vancouver. Its enrolment is currently just over 30,000 students. The school has 18 remaining varsity sports programs featuring over 300 student-athletes.

The program unveiled a new name for its varsity athletic teams this past fall, calling them the ‘Red Leafs.’ The school had previously discontinued the name ‘Clan’ in 2020.