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UBC athletics cross-border shopping

by Archives March 22, 2006

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. (CUP) — The amount of cross-border shoppers between Canada and the United States has increased over the past years. Those with fat wallets looking for greats deals are not Canadians heading to Seattle’s outlet malls, but American coaches from NCAA athletic institutions looking for our top athletes.

Every year, thousands of top prospects from across Canada are awarded handsome athletic scholarships to compete at universities and colleges south of the border. With over 4,000 post-secondary institutions, the U.S can offer a large amount of athletic scholarships in a wide variety of sports.

The most common athletic scholarships are awarded in basketball, football, and track & field. The choices of scholarships seem unlimited. Canadian high school athletes can earn a debt-free education in everything from bowling to fencing and even rifling!

However, the cross-border migration is no longer just affecting Canadian universities; it is now affecting the governing body for the university sports in Canada. In the March 6 issue of Maclean’s in an article titled, “March Madness, Here We Come,” Nancy MacDonald explains UBC’s plan to reduce the amount of Canadian athletes from crossing the border to the U.S. In a “if you can’t beat them join them” attitude, UBC has already begun wooing the NCAA, the governing body for interuniversity athletics in the US, to consider having their Canadian cousins “join in all their reindeer games.”

The governing body for interuniversity athletics in Canada is the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). Their persistent stubbornness regarding athletic scholarships has resulted in many universities seeking answers to the question of funding athletes.

The topic of athletic scholarships in Canada is nothing new. It has been a topic of heated discussions for decades and has always created a division between CIS member institutions. Some institutions (Ontario) believe there should be a balance between academics and athletics, and that awarding athletic scholarships would upset this balance. Others claim that by adopting the NCAA model, it would help ease the strain on student-athletes-many of whom are faced with rising tuition fees for the past few years. The theory is that increasing athletic scholarships would help keep top athletes home, thus improving the quality of competition throughout the CIS.

In support, Simon Fraser University (SFU) said that they would be willing to “defect” and join UBC should the opportunity present itself. SFU, which still has the majority of their athletic programs (cross country, golf, soccer, softball, swimming & diving, track & field, and wrestling) competing in the NCAA sister operation-the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)-has seen some success and regret competing south of the border.

SFU women’s softball team was the NAIA National Champions in 2003 and the women’s soccer team won it all in 2000. However, in 2001, SFU’s basketball programs opted to withdraw their membership from the NAIA and rejoin the growing Canada West conference of the CIS. Increasing travel costs and erratic schedules were cited as the main reasons for the controversial move. Some former SFU players regretted not being able to compete for a National Championship due to a lack of conference–a lost opportunity for a program that for years had one of the best men’s basketball teams in Canada.

So how will UBC overcome these barriers to ensure survival at the Big Dance? According to recent reports, UBC’s fundraising and athletic budget totals approximately $4 million, which is comparable to many of the NCAA institutions that compete in the Pacific Northwest and California. UBC Athletic Director, Bob Phillip, has had a couple of visits from NCAA officials to prove to them that UBC can play with the big boys.

In recent exhibition games against traditional powerhouse schools Georgia and Kansas State, UBC defeated both teams and has recently won as many of four games against NCAA Division I schools. Even against the Kansas Jayhawks, the Thunderbirds held their own for much of the game. So what is the hold up?

Well, for starters, the NCAA has been somewhat reluctant to open its borders to include non-American members. However, with two recent visits the UBC’s Vancouver campus, it could mean that they are willing to change their views. In addition, there are several requirements for members who apply to the NCAA for membership, and officials need to ensure UBC can comply with these requirements.

Publicly, CIS officials are saying that they hope UBC will remain a part of the CIS. But when will the CIS wake up and realize that some of the schools aren’t thinking along the same line?

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