Final decision: Simon Fraser A.D. Theresa Hanson didn’t apply to U Sports due to ‘incredibly complex’ process

Photo courtesy: SFU

Simon Fraser University (SFU) athletic director Theresa Hanson defended her school’s decision to cancel its football program, bringing an end to a program that had existed since 1965.

The school claimed the decision was made primarily due to the Lone Star Conference’s (LSC) choice not to renew SFU’s membership beyond the 2023 season, leaving them without a home for 2024. SFU joined the LSC this past year following a stint with the Great Northwest Atlantic Conference (GNAC) from 2010 to 2021.

Hanson admitted that SFU could have simply remained in the LSC for the 2023 season and played a full schedule, though she believes doing so would have merely prolonged the inevitable.

“The reason the decision was announced now and not at the end of the season was to give our athletes an opportunity to move on,” she told 3DownNation on Wednesday. “The longer you wait, they’re not going to have that many doors open, that many opportunities, so that came to light including the uncertainty around the program. Having made that decision and not being able to share that was not in the best interest of the student-athletes.”

Hanson also confirmed that the school didn’t make a formal application to join U Sports, calling the process “incredibly complex.”

U Sports bylaws do not allow its members to belong to more than one conference and SFU has no desire to move its other athletic programs from NCAA Division II. SFU competed in U Sports from 2002 to 2009 but “invested a lot” into their athletic programming to gain membership status south of the border.

In the end, Hanson felt it was “very unlikely” that SFU’s football team would have been given the “unprecedented” exemption necessary to be granted admission into U Sports and felt it best not to risk putting the program through that level of uncertainty.

“There are absolutely no assurances that we’d get any traction (with U Sports) … and that was not an acceptable experience for our student-athletes. It’s never a good time to make a really tough decision but the university believes they’re making the right decision for the athletes by announcing it now and allowing them the opportunity to move on,” said Hanson.

SFU has agreed to honour athletic scholarships for football players for the 2023-2024 academic year despite the cancellation of the program. Many players have entered the transfer portal with the hopes of securing an opportunity to play elsewhere and the school is offering guidance to help expedite that process.

It’s relatively late in the recruiting process for players looking to find new homes. One source indicated that U Sports programs typically have just two or three scholarships still available at this time of year, approximately 10 percent of their annual allotment.

Many players are also currently writing their final exams for the semester with the cancellation of their football program serving as an added burden during an already stressful time.

The decision to cancel SFU’s football program has received significant backlash from alumni who have vowed to fight the decision. Many have expressed disappointment that the school didn’t better communicate its challenges with community stakeholders, though Hanson claims SFU was in touch with “key alumni” as soon as the LSC made the decision not to renew SFU’s membership.

“We met with our coaches just to talk through the available options and we did the same with some key alumni through our Football Alumni Society,” said Hanson. “Those are the discussions that we had in probably mid-February, early-February, around that time, which actually helped us to really make sure that we were crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s and looking at all the available options. So those were the discussions that we had.”

SFU’s football team would possibly require a new coaching staff if it were to somehow continue in 2023 as, per sources, the coaching staff was offered buyouts on Tuesday in conjunction with the announcement that the program was being eliminated. It is unclear how many of the coaching staff accepted the available buyouts.

Per sources, SFU’s alumni group met Tuesday night and will do so again on Thursday. The group is planning to file an injunction with the hopes of potentially reversing SFU’s decision to shutter its program.

Hanson is aware of a petition being circulated online to save SFU football but made it clear that, in her opinion, it’s irrelevant how many signatures it receives as the decision is final. She also made it clear that SFU’s decision had nothing to do with finances or performance — it was strictly about not having a conference in which to play.

When asked if she was surprised at the backlash the decision has received, Hanson sympathizes with those who are feeling upset.

“I think it’s really, really difficult news to receive,” she said. “I knew it wouldn’t be easy and I knew it wouldn’t be easy on the athletes and the alumni. We’re in a really tough situation with football and I’ll just leave it at that. Just really, really tough news to hear.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.