Alumni criticize ‘unclear messaging’ from Simon Fraser, call for football resources to be put in escrow

Photo: SFU Athletics

The Simon Fraser University Football Alumni Society (SFUFAS) has criticized what they’ve termed “unclear messaging” from Simon Fraser University following the release of an extensive program review conducted by a special advisor.

Bob Copeland, the senior vice-president of McLaren Global Sport Solutions, released his findings on the future of football at Simon Fraser University after conducting an extensive review of the program over the past four months. The 136-page document included a number of findings, including one indicating the only path to reinstating the program lies with Canada West in U Sports.

Simon Fraser has spent the past 13 years competing south of the border in NCAA Division II, though the football program was scrapped in April after the Lone Star Conference (LSC) elected not to renew its membership beyond 2023. The school’s release on Monday didn’t indicate what steps it intends to take as a result of the report, which also revealed SFU is facing a $1.7 million operational deficit. SFU representatives had previously indicated that budgetary concerns were not a factor in the termination of the football program.

“Is the issue around football’s future at SFU about money, or isn’t it?” said SFUFAS president Mark Bailey in a statement. “Are we applying to U Sports, or aren’t we? There has been a lot of mixed messaging from the administration, and if we can get clarity, we can start working together on a solution that restores the program and repairs the reputation of the university.”

“Mr. Copeland was not asked to provide recommendations in the report but has illustrated the steps toward the reestablishment of the football program through Canada West and U Sports. We are ready to support the effort in any fashion possible.”

In the meantime, the SFUFAS has asked that resources designated for the football program be put in escrow as a sign of good faith from the university.

“The endowments supporting football athletes, with money raised by football alumni, should remain dedicated to their intended purpose,” said Bailey. “The football equipment should be put into storage and not out to auction. That would be a measure of trust-building which between the university administration and the alumni along with the football community has been lacking.”

In April, the SFUFAS raised funds to help reinstate the football program alongside local business leaders, including B.C. Lions’ owner Amar Doman. The pledges, initially announced as totalling over $700,000, were contingent upon the reinstatement of the football program. Copeland’s report indicated that the value of the pledges is actually worth $3 million over five years.

Copeland’s report also said that SFU’s athletics department “currently operates without a strategic plan,” calling it “a concern.” Athletic director Theresa Hanson left SFU last month in what the school termed a mutual agreement and has not been replaced. 52 percent of staff described the capacity of the athletic department as “poor” or “terrible,” while 6.5 percent expressed their belief that it was “good” or “excellent.”

Dr. Joy Johnson, the president of SFU, commended Copeland for the “depth and thoroughness” of his review and offered words of sympathy to the football program’s stakeholders.

“I recognize that the findings of this report may not be what the football community had hoped for, but Mr. Copeland has made clear that our starting point now must be setting the right foundation for athletics and recreation,” she said.

Bailey considers the review confirmation of what he termed as a “lack of advocacy and leadership from SFU,” which he claims has been apparent to the SFUFAS for years. He is hopeful that Dr. Johnson will take the report to heart and rectify the athletic department’s shortcomings.

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.