The football world is a tight one.
That’s something that the administration at Simon Fraser University is finding out after they announced last week that they would be terminating the football program after 57 years.
Not only have alumni of the program let their displeasure be known, but individuals such as B.C. Lions owner Amar Doman and CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie have also weighed in with their support.
Doman, who financially backed the rebirth of the Shrum Bowl this past year, pledged his support in a video message saying “We’re not going to go away. We’re going to see whatever we can do to try to get the season salvaged. We want to continue the tradition” while Ambrosie has even gone as far to write an open letter to U Sports CEO Pierre Arsenault asking that the organization allow SFU an exemption to compete only in football which goes against U Sports doctrine.
There also has been a steady stream of pressure applied on social media by the likes of Football Canada President and broadcaster Jim Mullin and SFU alumni such as TSN personalities Farhan Lalji and Glen Suitor.
Best known as the lead analyst for TSN’s CFL broadcasts for over two decades, Suitor played at Simon Fraser from 1980-1984 before embarking on a 11-year career with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
For Suitor, the announcement came as a shock. He has seen college football programs fold before, but to him, the SFU move was unprecedented.
“I’ve heard this type of thing before with other programs and other universities. But never has there been an announcement that the program will be shut down immediately. That has never happened and that’s what surprised me - it was the immediate announcement with no communication prior. No news or any information to the alumni or to anyone else suggesting that there were any issues or that the program was even in trouble. It surprised me that that it came down with zero notice after spring camp and with the team preparing to play a full schedule in the Lone Star Conference,” Suitor explains.
The overwhelming support that the football program has received shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Mullin told Business in Vancouver that “there’s 27 other teams across this country playing university football, and as much as they’re competitive, it’s like NATO. You attack one, you attack all 27.”
Suitor isn’t surprised either but is also viewing this situation through a different lens.
“I think many people in Canada right now are looking at this from a bigger picture point of view and saying amateur sports and collegiate sports are under attack. There are many people that understand the value of our youth playing sports. Playing a sport like football requires you to become selfless. It requires you to show great humility, to put the goal of the team and the goal of your teammates before your own personal agenda. And that’s something that society needs. And I think there’s a lot of people across our country right now that are looking at this from a bigger picture and saying, we can’t let this happen because it could happen here. Then we start losing sports in our college programs - whether it’s football or any other sport. Then what’s next? Is it the wrestling program? The basketball program?” says Suitor.
The inconsistency in the messaging from SFU as well as the fact that not all avenues were exhausted to save the program has many people upset.
For Suitor, it’s become personal.
“I think when you ask someone in a position of authority to explain something…to give you a reason for a ruling…and they tell you that it’s too complex for you to understand. Yeah, then it becomes personal. When you think about the way that this was done…that’s why people are so angry and people are frustrated,” responds Suitor.
And he and others are definitely not buying what the administration is selling in terms of not having anywhere to play in 2024.
“No, I’m not buying it because it’s not a reason because they had a full schedule. They don’t have a reason for why they’re wanting to shut down. Because at the time of the announcement, they had their full schedule for the 2023 season. So that isn’t a reason to shut it down now. If, after this season, they’re shutting down the program, then that’s different. But we’re shutting it down effective immediately? It doesn’t make sense,” says Suitor.
The SFU Football Alumni Society is planning to file a court injunction this week to have the program restored for the 2023 season and it has initiated an online petition to “RESTORE the SFU Football Program before May 1, 2023” which is getting close to 10,000 signatures according to Suitor.
A Post-Media report has Lone Star Conference Commissioner Jay Poerner saying that “our institutions have moved on and we are working hard to help fill the voids left in their 2023 schedules” which clearly isn’t good news for SFU for 2023 but in all likelihood that news is irrelevant as Ambrosie and the CFL are pressuring U Sports to accept SFU for the 2023 season and beyond.
According to a report by Global TV’s Jay Janower, Canada West officials will meet today (Tuesday) to discuss the possibility of admitting SFU’s football program into U Sports.
If Canada West says yes, the administration’s excuse of not having a league to play in won’t hold up.
For Suitor and others, it will be a litmus test of the administration’s commitment to football and an opportunity to restore some damaged credibility.
“During the meeting where the administration told the student-athletes that the program was folding, they were asked three times why can’t we play this year? And they didn’t have an answer. And that’s what we’re fighting for. I have always taken such great pride to tell anyone that will listen that I am so proud of my time at SFU and that I am a proud alumnus of one of the most respected football programs in our country. When I saw that Facebook video of the meeting, it was the first time in my life I felt embarrassed for the school. It was the first time I didn’t feel proud of being an SFU alumnus,” says Suitor.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media. And check out his weekly podcast every Monday at Today in B.C. or your local Black Press Media website.