Thursday, 23 July 2009

Welcome to the Big League: SFU edition


NCAA football is like the Canadian junior hockey of American college athletics. It's the sport everyone cares about. They are the teams people follow if they don't have a pro franchise in their hometown.

You have your Division I schools (sort of like the CHL) who are just about the best you can get. If you play Div I (and you don't screw up by drinking too much or flunking out or getting arrested for one too many DUIs), you've pretty much got a stellar shot at a pro sports career. (And even then, sadly, the DUIs probably won't prevent a pro career so long as the athlete is not injured...)

You have your Division II schools (the NCAA's provincial junior A) who are a step down, but still pretty darn good. They're the guys who just might make it, who you pay attention to just in case, because you never know when one of them will crack the starting lineup in the big league...

And you have your Division III schools (essentially, provincial junior B) who are... well, to be polite, they're the folks who can't quite cut it at the highest level and are probably never going to make a career of it. But they love it, and so they play. Playing makes them happy, so they do it mostly for themselves. And sometimes, on rare occasions, the odd player takes a roundabout route, usually a little longer than the conventional path, and makes the jump to the big time.

NCAA status has also long been a means by which student-athletes rank schools, a way for people to organize universities in terms of something other than academics (even if most of the best schools end up being Division I, there are some Division I schools that are not necessarily the most challenging academically).

For years, the NCAA has been an exclusively American ranking system. Those days, however, are now gone. Last Friday, my beloved academic hell-hole, Simon Fraser University, was granted NCAA status. We are the first non-U.S. school to be admitted into the NCAA, but something tells me we might not be the last.

my beloved hell-hole... looking like heaven on earth for once

SFU is a football school. I don't really get football (yeah, yeah, I'll figure it out before I move to Steel-town), but apparently we're not that bad and beginning in the 2011-2012 academic year, the SFU Clan (our varsity teams are all "the Clan" - it's a Scottish thing... B.C.'s weird) -specifically our varsity men's football team- will be playing in the Great Northwestern Athletic Conference of the NCAA against schools in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Montana.

Now, something Americans probably don't know: Canadian universities aren't allowed to give full athletic scholarships. The CIS actually forbids it. But, seeing as SFU will now be a member of the NCAA, they will be the first Canadian university capable of offering the types of scholarships usually only available to Canadian students if they go to the United States.

The repercussions of this are actually kind of huge. It means that our athletics department is going to become even more of a priority for the school. It means that the kids in Kinesiology are going to have more student-athletes to treat in their practicums, and it means that SFU is going to be come unique amongst Canadian schools in that it will now be able to give exceptional athletes a free ride.

Up until now, Canadian schools have only ever been able to grant scholarships based on academic merit. This means that even if someone is the best running back in the province, he still has to meet the academic requirements to be admitted to a given university, and, if he wants a scholarship, he'd better have the grades to get one, because it's the only way he can. Over the years, I've noticed that a great many of the best student athletes are also very good students. I'm almost positive it has something to do with a work ethic that simply crosses over between sports and school work. I would be concerned about academics if it weren't for the fact that the NCAA has academic requirements its athletes are forced to maintain in order to play.

There is going to be a big debate about the cost of playing in the NCAA. No other Canadian university has ever had to budget for athletic scholarships before, and there are going to be some people who are hell bent on trying to prove that this move to the NCAA is going to cost us too much. But clearly the NCAA itself has deemed SFU capable of competing at a certain level, even without scholarships. We're going to be a Division II school. There is, as our athletic director was quote in our school paper, "a real magic" to the intitals 'NCAA' and, personally, I think that will attract students. Why go to the States if you can play Div II college football at a Canadian school? It may not seem like a big deal, but it will be to some. For some, being close to home, being in Canada will make SFU seem like a really amazing alternative to some state school in the midwest. And that can only be a good thing.

The thing I won't mind, though? Not living on the mountain while they're building a football stadium on Terry Fox Field. Because I was in rez when they built the new gym. And that was the furthest thing from fun.

The new gym is the part of that massive building that is horizontal rather than vertical slabs of cement... that building on the far left? That's Shell House, the residence I lived for two years. If that photo would blow up, I might be able to point out my window... because it looked out over the construction of the new gym, and when you're up until 4 a.m. working on a paper, and then jackhammers wake you up at 6:45 a.m.? Let's just say that it's shocking that I was never arrested for assaulting the idiot construction workers in a fit of sleep-deprived rage.

The only bit that kind of sucks about SFU becoming an NCAA school? It means that SFU hockey will be forced to improve, but I won't be around to watch when it does...

8 comments:

ali said...

Congratulations!

I actually think is pretty cool...

The only question I have is -- Since SFU is now NCAA sanctioned, I would guess that obviously their hockey team can become NCAA too (not all sports at a school have to be NCAA -UK is NCAA, but their hockey team is still club). If more Canadian Universities become NCAA sanctioned and take their hockey teams with them will it hurt the CHL at all? A Canadian kid could stay at home, in Canada, and play Div. 1 NCAA hockey as opposed to having to come to a University in the States. It's just always seemed like those are the two choices for young hockey players - (1) Go to Canada and play Junior or (2) Go to the States and play college.

Just a random thought that made it to my head while reading this...

Kylie said...

The Sport Management part of my brain just woke up and now I want to do to an epic research project on this.

This has amazing potential for a thesis. Too bad I did mine on Big Ten Football...

ali said...

Ah Kylie! Maybe this fall in my Sports Management class I can use this for a paper...

Or maybe it should day a "big deal" until I'm in grad school....

mer said...

ali, when i was writing this at like 1 a.m. I never quite got to the hockey implications. Probably half because I'm tired and half because SFU will be a Division II school, so therefor the hockey team could only ever be Div II (unless we get bumped up to Div I after a few years, but I honestly don't know how long that would take and how often school switch divisions in the NCAA.

You are absolutely correct in thinking that if more Canadian schools became NCAA-approved, and if any became NCAA Div I, that the potential for the Major Junior vs. College Hockey dynamic might change. I think that for that to happen, though, most of the big schools across Canada (UBC, U of Calgary, U of Alberta, U of Toronto, York, McGill, Carleton and Dalhousie, to name a few) would have to become part of the NCAA. The things is this: even if there were Canadian options for NCAA-eligible players, it doesn't necessarily mean that much would change in the CHL-Junior A decision. The decision would remain the same: the CHL or NCAA hockey. Parents might be more inclined to push the Junior A route a little more though since it would mean that Sonny-Boy might be able to go to the old Alma Mater...

All in all, Ali, I have a feeling this would make a FASCINATING thesis topic. I could hook you up with people to talk to at SFU if you decided to do it.

lauren said...

I go to a Division III school, and I LOVE our athletes, because they're people that are here to get an education and are playing a sport just for the fun of it. Some of them are actually pretty good athletes, but they're all capable of having an intelligent conversation, and that puts them higher on my "people I respect" list.

An interesting note on the Division thing- different teams can play in different divisions. There are some schools in Michigan- LSSU, NMU, and MTU, off the top of my head- that are Division I in hockey and Division II in everything else. I'm not sure exactly how the jump happens, but my guess would be that their hockey teams were just too good to be playing DII so they got moved up.

Val said...

I like the idea of the NCAA sanctioning universities in Canada, and I agree that it is probably a sign of things to come.

Competition is great, and Canadian competition even better, so SFU better bring it, sister :)

ali said...

@Deets -- I was thinking about the same thing regarding some schools that have hockey teams that are D.1 while other sports play at D.2. I tried searching the interwebs for the NCAA rules regarding that, but couldn't find much of anything.

Back in March I was watching the D.1 Men's Hockey Nat'l Championships and they were talking about Bemidji State. Bemidji State's men's hockey team won a whole bunch of D.2 Nat'l Championships and were then moved up to D.1 while the rest of Bemidji State sports still play at D.2.

The NCAA should make finding out rules on this sort of stuff more accessible...

mer said...

@Deets - I didn't mean to imply that athletes on Div III teams are not talented, or that those playing on Div I teams are not intelligent. I mean, Harvard is a Div I school... no dummies there. And you should know by now that I'm all about cheering for the long shots, and the scrubs, and the boys with grittttttt.

@Deets & Ali - I didn't know about the different teams playing in different divisions thing though, so thanks! When I thought about it at work tonight, I came to the conclusion that if they get one team up to Div I, though, as much as they would want it to be the football team, it would probably be the women's basktball team. Two years ago they went like 14 and 0 to start their season... it was MENTAL. It makes me curious if hockey will be Division II though. And if it being an NCAA school AT ALL will have a positive impact on the players they can attract. Even if it is Div II...