Simon Fraser University will not play football games in 2023, future of program remains unclear

Photo courtesy: Simon Fraser Football

Simon Fraser University’s football team will not play any games in 2023 due to what Bob Copeland, an independent special advisor tasked with exploring options for the future of football at the school, has termed “safety and logistical concerns.”

SFU suddenly cancelled its football program in April, which drew considerable backlash from the football community at the local, provincial, and national levels. Following a long battle in the court of public opinion as well as an injunction filed by SFU football players to prevent the cancellation of program, SFU hired Copeland in what appeared to be a step towards the team potentially playing exhibition games this fall.

The news was met with optimism from those who were hoping to see SFU’s football program reinstated. His responsibilities included evaluating the possibility of SFU playing exhibition football games in 2023, assessing the viability of the program being reinstated in 2024, initiating dialogue with select football governing bodies, and issuing a report that is to be published in September 2023.

On Tuesday, SFU announced that Copeland’s review, which has heard from more than 275 people, remains underway but the school has accepted his interim recommendation that the football team not play exhibition games or controlled scrimmages in 2023, which they feel is in the best interest of the safety and academic success of their student-athletes.

Copeland’s data showed that 45 players intended to return to play for SFU this fall, including a handful who aren’t academically eligible or have indicated their intention to transfer to other institutions. He found this number to be a “significant health and safety risk” to the possibility of sustaining the program throughout an exhibition season, which would presumably include additional injuries given the nature of the sport.

A number of Canadian and American institutions were contacted by the SFU Football Alumni Society (SFUFAS) in April regarding their interest in playing an exhibition game against SFU in 2023 and enough informal agreements were reached to create a schedule. These agreements were contingent upon the football program being reinstated for the upcoming season.

Copeland reviewed the proposal from the SFUFAS but found the schedule didn’t consider “significant travel costs” as well as “demands that would be placed on both student-athletes and support staff within the athletics department.” He also reiterated his concerns regarding player health and safety.

The SFUFAS partnered with local leaders including B.C. Lions’ owner Amar Doman to hold a pledge drive in April, which raised over $700,000 for the program. The collection of the funds was contingent upon the program being formally reinstated.

It remains unclear whether or not SFU’s football program will be reinstated for 2024 as Copeland’s full report is not yet complete. This decision was made now to allow student-athletes to register for classes and meet athletic transfer deadlines.

SFU has committed to honouring the scholarships of football players through graduation and indicated that they are provided student-athletes with health and well-being support along with one-on-one meetings. They are also supporting those who are transferring to other programs.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.