Simon Fraser University is facing legal action for failing to live up to its promises to student-athletes, but B.C. Lions owner Amar Doman is prepared to put his money where his mouth is to help revive the school’s football program.
Doman joined Vancouver sports show Donnie and Dhali on Friday to discuss his role in the efforts to save SFU football, following the program’s unexpected discontinuation on April 4. While the university has claimed the decision was not made due to financial concerns, the Victoria-born lumber magnate is one of many questioning their honesty.
“We keep hearing it’s not financial, it’s not this, it’s not that, but there is no reason why, that we can see, that the season should have been cancelled. They should have been allowed to play it out,” Doman said.
“The whole football world is upset. One of the quotes used in the football world was that this is like attacking NATO. You hit one university, you’ve hit them all. Everybody’s on our side. The commissioner of the CFL is, every university, we’re having conversations with U Sports about trying to get something going here.”
Simon Fraser University officials have cited the Lone Star Conference’s (LSC) choice not to renew their membership beyond the 2023 season as the primary reason for the program’s discontinuation. However, the team had a full NCAA Division II schedule booked for next year and was budgeted to play, having already completed spring camp and brought in a full recruiting class.
Athletic director Theresa Hanson confirmed to 3DownNation that the school did not make a formal application to re-join U Sports prior to cancelling the program due to an “incredibly complex” process, deeming an “unprecedented” exemption to be unlikely. By contrast, the group of alumni and football leaders rallying to save the program believe they have received a generally positive response to their advances to U Sports and believe SFU leadership is using the process as an excuse.
If money is the real motivation, Doman is prepared to offer a solution. The question is whether the university is willing to listen.
“If that’s an issue, not just myself but there are other business colleagues in Vancouver that are alumni there that feel the same way. We’re having private conversations about this. I can’t disclose numbers but can certainly tell you that if there’s a cheque to be written and if that’s the problem to save football, you’ve got a good network starting with Mr. Doman here that will support it,” he stated.
“I’m calling them out right now to say if that’s a problem, let’s talk. The problem is we just can’t get a response that’s anything else but political at this point and it’s frustrating, and I guess it’s going to court.”
Since taking ownership of the Lions in September 2021, Doman has made connecting with amateur football an organizational priority, recently making a record-setting donation of over $309,000 to local organizations. The team also spearheaded the return of the annual rivalry clash between Simon Fraser and the nearby University of British Columbia — nicknamed the Shrum Bowl — which was played for the first time in 12 years this past December. The Lions were slated to sponsor the game again in 2023.
On Thursday, five current SFU players filed a lawsuit in British Columbia Supreme Court seeking a legal injunction to restore the 2023 season. The players, who are backed by a powerful group of SFU alumni, are claiming the decision was in violation of the verbal contract that the university entered into when recruiting them.
The football program at Simon Fraser first launched in 1965, spending most of its history as a member of the American-based National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). They briefly competed in U Sports from 2002 to 2009, before making the move to NCAA Division II competition. SFU joined the LSC this past year following a stint with the Great Northwest Atlantic Conference (GNAC) from 2010 to 2021.
The school has produced more CFL draft picks than any other in the country, leading many prominent Canadian football figures to rally behind those pushing to save the team, including CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie. Doman says that while most of the efforts need to remain behind closed doors for now, he and others are ‘pushing hard’ on a number of fronts.
“Football can’t go away at SFU, it just can’t. If that means guys like me need to put in money, we’ll do it. If that’s the issue, somebody tell me the issue,” he said. “We understand the NCAA stuff, that’s coming to a close. Probably not a bad thing at the end of the day. Let’s get this university back playing U Sports, where it belongs as well. What can I do to help? I’ll do it.”