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Canadian varsity teams barred from joining US league

Ruling by Canada’s university sports body won’t keep SFU from switching to NCAA


Canada’s university sporting body, Canadian Interuniversity Sport, is closing the door on its members joining competing sports leagues. But that won’t affect Simon Fraser University, which has already decided it is leaving CIS for the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The move by SFU varsity teams was widely anticipated and prompted CIS members to pass two motions at their last meeting in June that, when they take effect, will restrict membership in other athletic conferences.

The motions place restrictions on members’ participation in two U.S. intercollegiate sports bodies – the NCAA and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics – for sports that are offered by CIS. The NCAA motion says that members cannot participate in NCAA sports that are offered by the CIS, and it takes effect immediately.

The NAIA motion, which takes effect in September 2011, is more nuanced. Those teams that participate in the NAIA – and there are teams at five western Canadian universities – will be allowed to continue that practice as long as they also compete in CIS for the same sport. The University of Regina’s wrestling team, for example, competes in both leagues and can continue to do so without sanctions.

But just after the motions passed, SFU was approved to become the first non-U.S. member of the NCAA. Beginning with the 2011-12 season, after a two-year transition period, all of SFU’s Clan varsity teams will compete in the NCAA’s Division II. David Murphy, SFU’s athletic director, said that by the time the new CIS rules take effect, the Clan will already be full participants in the NCAA.

The University of British Columbia has also mulled joining the NCAA but has not yet made a decision.

Incoming CIS president Clint Hamilton, who is also the athletic director at the University of Victoria, said that losing SFU or UBC is something CIS “wouldn’t look forward to.” But he said that it could actually contribute positively to the organization. The membership issue has been “a really important catalyst for the CIS to look at itself, and it has, with a view to strengthening itself as an organization,” he said.

Kevin Dickie, athletic director at the University of New Brunswick, said the SFU move doesn’t change anything for his teams. “For us, it’s a moot point,” he said. “It is not threatening to the CIS at all.” SFU’s Dr. Murphy said he takes no issue with CIS and accepts its position on dual membership. “The CIS has to protect itself against a whole lot of other teams considering doing this move as well,” he said, without indicating which other schools might be looking south.

But SFU has always been different than other Canadian schools, he continued, pointing to its longtime membership in the NAIA dating back to when the university first opened its doors in 1965. In 1997, however, many of SFU’s traditional NAIA rivals began moving their programs into the larger NCAA, hence SFU’s interest in joining that body.

“I don’t think that anybody in the CIS – although they might say that they are surprised – is surprised, because this is where I think SFU has always said they would end up,” said Dr. Murphy. There are five teams in the NCAA “within a two-hour bus ride of where we are right now, and those are our traditional rivals.”

One of those rivals, Western Oregon University, left the NAIA in 1998. The athletic director at that school, Jon Carey, said that members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference – the Division II league that SFU hopes to join – look forward to playing against the Clan for the first time in more than a decade.

“Those of us who have been around awhile have fond memories of Simon Fraser and our competition with them,” said Mr. Carey, who has a long history at Western Oregon. “We’re looking across the border to the north wondering what in the world they have up there, just as they’re looking across the border this way.”

This article has been updated. An earlier version had incorrect information concerning Canadian university membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

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