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SFU cuts its entire sports and information department amid budget deficits

Quality of varsity sport broadcasts and player promotions will suffer, says former staffer.


Simon Fraser University is continuing to trim its athletic department nearly one year after axing the school’s football program.

In February, the school dismissed its entire sports and information department, a team of three people responsible for fielding media requests and promoting the athletic department on social media, among other duties.

The school’s director of recreation, Marc Pope, was also fired and did not respond to an interview request.

“They’re looking to save money and felt that we were expendable,” said Jacob Lazare, a former communications major at SFU, who worked in the Red Leafs’ sports and information department for about two and a half years before losing his job this year.

Another former member of SFU’s sports and information department, Wilson Wong, declined to comment in a message to University Affairs. Tiffani Martinez, the school’s current event coordinator for athletics, also turned down an interview request.

The job losses come as the school is expected to slash all department budgets by five to eight per cent this year due to a lack of revenue, higher costs and a lower than expected international student enrolment.

Before the football program was cut, the athletics department was staring down a budget deficit of $1.77 million, according to an independent report that was published in September.

In response to the budget challenges and the report, SFU made the decision to streamline operations within the university. The athletics and recreation department is currently being overlooked by SFU’s provost and vice-president, academic, Dilson Etcheverry Rassier.

“Some roles were eliminated as this work can be supported through other areas of the organization,” university administration said in a statement to University Affairs.

But Mr. Lazare said the sports and media information roles may not be easily transferrable.

“Our jobs are different and unique compared to someone in central communications within the university,” he said. “We have to do things like shoot media days and create athlete-specific content that someone else may not have experience with.”

The department was a one stop shop for all of SFU’s 16 varsity programs, he added, doing everything from posting promotional graphics on social media to finalizing uniform and apparel orders.

According to Mr. Lazare, the university was not transparent about its budget issues with the entire athletic department. A university-wide hiring freeze, which was announced in November 2023, prevented the sports and information department from hiring new staff, which could have alleviated symptoms of burnout.

“We were understaffed, we were working overtime, they wouldn’t let us hire extra people,” he said.

Last May, after the football program was terminated, the university announced it had hired an independent adviser, McLaren Global Sports Solutions, to explore the possibility of bringing the team back.

The report revealed wider structural and systemic issues in SFU’s athletics and recreation department, and that the revival of the football program may have financial and governance impacts on the rest of the university and its varsity teams.

Read more: SFU football supporters cry foul

The blending of the school’s athletics and recreation programs – while common for many Canadian institutions – would be considered an anomaly for U.S. schools, who serve as a majority of SFU’s varsity competition in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

SFU students are charged a single fee for varsity athletics and recreation. Although splitting the oversight of athletics and recreation may result in higher operational costs for the university, the report wrote, it may create more funding opportunities for varsity teams.

The school also needs to address funding inequalities between varsity teams and weigh the value of continuing to compete in the NCAA, according to the report.

In a press release published in October, SFU said it expected to hire a new director of athletics and recreation by March 2024, replacing the former senior director of athletics and recreation, Theresa Hanson, who left SFU in August.

In a statement to University Affairs in March, SFU said that they are assembling a search committee and expect to hire the new director by the summer. The university is also looking to create a new strategic plan that will guide decisions regarding the future of the school’s recreation programming and varsity teams, including football.

Despite the ongoing hiring process, the direction of SFU’s varsity teams and sports and information department is uncertain, Mr. Lazare said.

“I don’t know what the future is going to be,” Mr. Lazare said.

SFU told University Affairs that they are not wavering from their allegiance to the NCAA.

“There is no change in SFU’s commitment to the NCAA at this time, and the university continues to fulfill all NCAA game requirements.”

There is some work left over by the previous sports and information department, such as social media graphic templates, that will ease the transition for the new sports and information team this season, Mr. Lazare said.

But if a dedicated sports and information department is not in place by the next academic year, he fears that the broadcast quality of events will suffer. He also worries that SFU’s athletes will not be covered – on the team’s website or social media – in a way that rivals other NCAA schools.

“We strived with everything we did to make it look like we are as close to being a UCLA, Michigan or Ohio State,” said Mr. Lazare.

“That will be gone without a sports and information department.”

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