CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie lobbies U Sports leadership to help save Simon Fraser football team

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has thrown his support behind efforts to revive the Simon Fraser University football program.

In a letter addressed to U Sports CEO Pierre Arsenault, managing director of the Canada West conference Rocky Olfert, and various athletic directors and head coaches, Ambrosie lobbied Canadian university sports leaders to provide an exception to existing rules that would allow SFU to play in U Sports as a single sport member.

The letter, which was shared online by Football Canada president Jim Mullin, can be read in its entirety below.

Dear Pierre, Rocky, and Athletic Directors and Head Coaches of U SPORTS’ Football Programs,

As you all know, Simon Fraser University has discontinued its football program effective immediately. I am writing to seek your support for facilitating the continuation of that program by allowing it to return to Canada West and U SPORTS competition.

Of course, it is well understood that the discontinuation of the Simon Fraser football program impacts student-athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, fans, and others within the university community who have put so much effort and passion into that program. However, the decision also affects Canadian football as a whole, including the Canadian Football League. Our game and our league have been through challenging times, yet we stand at the precipice of a new era – the beginning of a new beginning. We are excited about partnering with and promoting our players, embracing technological innovation, pursuing expansion to new markets, and strengthening our bond with our millions of fans across the country. To do that, and to achieve all of our shared vision for the gridiron game in Canada, we need more high-level football programs and elite players here, not fewer.

The program at Simon Fraser University has been a significant part of our country’s football fabric. Simon Fraser has produced 217 CFL draft picks – the most of any school in Draft history. As you have witnessed over the past few days, the school also boasts a very proud and vocal alumni group.

In addition, BC Lions owner Amar Doman is a strong supporter of the program and football in the province. Mr. Doman’s commitment is highlighted by spearheading the return of the annual “Shrum Bowl’ against UBC in 2022 with plans to make the rivalry game even bigger this year. Growing football at the amateur and grassroots levels is something every pro team in Canada is proud to support.

Ultimately, our football ecosystem needs to rally together and do everything in our collective power to help save Simon Fraser’s program. I would never claim expertise in the complexity or nuances of the rules, regulations, and policies set by U SPORTS and Canada West, and I am aware of the sensitivities in these circumstances and of the risk of granting exceptions to otherwise clear protocols. However, as the great John Wooden once said, “An effective leader allows exceptions to the rule for exceptional results or when circumstance demands.” Saving the Simon Fraser University football program would certainly be an exceptional result, and the risk of losing that program is certainly a circumstance that demands an exception.

Accordingly, in light of all of the above, I would ask that each of you take whatever steps you can, be that a letter to U SPORTS and/or Canada West, a call to your representative on the Board of those organizations, or a conversation with your respective institution’s senior leadership, to advocate for permitting the return of Simon Fraser University football to U SPORTS and Canada West competition if and when it applies to do so. I understand that the first step is theirs, but the ultimate decision will be yours, and I am confident that you will make the right one.

Sincerely, Randy Ambrosie

Simon Fraser University announced the immediate discontinuation of its football team on Tuesday, 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.

SFU competed in U Sports from 2002 to 2009, before making the move to NCAA Division II competition. For most of the school’s history, they have competed in the American-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

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. Athletic director Theresa Hanson confirmed to 3DownNation that the school did not make a formal application to U Sports prior to cancelling the program due to an “incredibly complex” process, deeming an “unprecedented” exemption to be unlikely.

Canadian football leaders have pushed back on that narrative in the days since, as alumni mount a furious attempt to save the program. Several meetings with key decision-makers across all levels of football have taken place, with the group planning to file a legal injunction to salvage the 2023 season.

In the meantime, SFU student-athletes continue to suffer through the uncertainty in the midst of exam season. The unexpected cancellation came following the completion of spring camp and after the team was allowed to recruit a full 2023 class, with limited opportunities left available for those wishing to transfer to other schools.