‘Give us a reason’: legendary CFL kicker Lui Passaglia criticizes alma mater Simon Fraser for ‘mind-boggling’ discontinuation of football program

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

No name holds greater weight in history of football in British Columbia than Lui Passaglia and the legendary kicker is using that status to voice his displeasure with his alma mater, Simon Fraser University.

On Friday, the 68-year-old Hall of Famer joined local Vancouver sports show Donnie and Dhali to address the university’s sudden discontinuation of its storied football program, taking particular umbrage with the way in which it was handled.

“Just to shut the door, it’s like somebody sneaking in to your house in the middle of the night and not knowing where they are,” Passaglia said. “To me, it’s mind-boggling that these professionals handled it this way.”

Simon Fraser announced the immediate discontinuation of its football team on Tuesday, April 4. 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.

For Passaglia, who played both kicker and receiver at the school from 1972 to 1975, that reasoning did not stand up to further interrogation.

“I think the first questions that came to mind were, ‘why and why now?’ Based on the communication that came out, did everyone do their due diligence to find out if they couldn’t play in the Lone Star Conference in Texas, was there other opportunities in the NCAA and elsewhere? And if not there, was there an opportunity here in Canada?,” he queried.

“We still haven’t gotten answers, direct answers. The people up at Simon Fraser, the athletic director and the president, just gave a standard communique saying that they looked at it but my question is, how in depth did they look at it?”

Athletic director Theresa Hanson admitted to 3DownNation that the school did not formally request to join U Sports prior to the cancellation due to the “incredibly complex” application process that would have had to be undertaken. However, the leaders of an alumni group pushing to have the program reinstated claim they have received generally positive feedback about the likelihood of SFU being granted single sport membership in the Canada West conference, with leadership across all levels of football in Canada seemingly rallying behind the program.

The timing of the announcement was viewed as especially egregious, coming on the heel of athletes completing spring camp and at a point in the calendar where opportunities are limited for students wishing to transfer. The school has claimed that finances played no role in the decision, begging the question as to why they opted to pull the plug a year early despite having a full 2023 season scheduled.

“Why now? They knew in the fall that this was probably going to happen. And yet, did anybody do the due diligence? Did anybody contact the alumni or people in the community that might have helped the program if it needed help as far as finances go? Is that the reason why the program’s not in existence? A lot of questions really haven’t been answered,” Passaglia said.

“Give us a reason. If it’s financial and you’re dealing with the dollar and you’re playing in the United States and this isn’t viable, then let us know. But the student-athletes should have known that back in the fall when they were playing their last game against UBC. The university had months to put something together and look at other opportunities, but to come up with a statement like they did not even a month ago, it’s a sad way to go out.”

Alumni have mounted a furious attempt to save the program since the university’s announcement, including filing an injunction in B.C. Supreme Court last week on behalf of five players seeking the reinstatement of the 2023 season.

On Thursday, SFU leadership announced the appointment of a special advisor to evaluate the future of the sustainability of football following several meetings with the group. However, they reiterated their commitment to not fielding a team this fall, creating further outcry due to what was viewed as an obvious attempt to delay the process until it was no longer viable.

In the years prior to its discontinuation, SFU had struggled to field a competitive team at the NCAA Division II level, posting an 18-99 record over the last 12 seasons. As a product of the team’s golden era in the NAIA, when it became a factory for CFL talent, Passaglia places blame directly on the university for their lack of funding and support.

“If it is winning and losing, let’s improve. We’ve never been asked or told on how to improve that, it’s the athletic department that’s running the show,” he insisted. “If it’s money, why didn’t you let us know that and maybe we could have done something six months ago.”

Passaglia is not a part of the group responsible for meeting with university officials, but is happy to add his voice to the chorus of dissenters as arguably the school’s most famous alumnus. He’s in good company, with the likes of TSN analyst Glen Suitor, Canadian Football Hall of Famer Doug Brown, Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ president Wade Miller, former Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano, and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie all speaking out against SFU.

B.C. Lions owner Amar Doman has been at the forefront of the fight, offering to provide financial assistance to the program if the university will come clean and request it. The Simon Fraser University Football Alumni Society will be hosting a fundraiser on Tuesday, April 25 in which he and other community leaders have promised to match donations up to $500,000.

“He’s the epitome of someone who loves football, loves the Canadian game, and owners like him only benefit the community,” Passaglia said of Doman’s involvement.

“We’re lucky to have him involved with and owning the B.C. Lions and being involved in football, not only in British Columbia, but in Canada. Thank you, Amar, for stepping up when others didn’t.”