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Alumni society not giving up fight to save SFU football program

A B.C. Supreme Court injunction is set to be filed nearly 10 days after Simon Fraser University announced the discontinuation of its football program.
Shrum Bowl XXXIV (34) between between Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia on Dec. 2, 2022. The Thunderbirds won the game 18-17 over the Red Leafs.

More than a week after Simon Fraser University (SFU) announced it was immediately shuttering its football program, the local sports community isn't giving up hope.

The SFU Football Alumni Society is planning to file an injunction against the school in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday (April 13) in hopes of seeing the decision reversed.  

"It [the injunction] essentially helps with the accountability of the university," SFU Football Alumni Society president Mark Bailey told the NOW.

Bailey said the injunction is mainly associated with the contract and/or scholarships that were in place with student-athletes.

The injunction won't involve the whole team, but a number of representatives will be included in the filing.

"The university right now, in my opinion, has jeopardized these young people's future," Bailey continued. 

"If this was where they were headed with this [cancelling the program], even if it was without consultation, it could have been made in December and given them the full opportunity to at least find other places. It's four months until summer camp. A lot of these student-athletes may not have their areas offered at other institutions nor do they have the means to move elsewhere. So it’s completely disruptive for many different scenarios and to all athletes involved. It wasn’t done in a timely manner."

Bailey said the priority right now is finding the football team somewhere to play in 2023.

"We need to focus on the priorities immediate to us and that’s essentially resolving the 2023 situation and making sure that the student-athletes can participate and represent the university. And then, of course, there’s going to be a timeline and process which you have to follow to find membership elsewhere the following season."

Canada West issues statement

In a statement posted to its social media accounts, Canada West said it is empathetic to the situation involving SFU and its football program, adding they currently don't have any applications for review.

"Canada West has an application process for considering new members as outlined in Policy 1 of its Operations Manual. Currently, Canada West does not have any active applications for review."

The statement added the organization would not be making any further comments about membership or potential applicants.

SFU athletic director Theresa Hanson told the NOW last week the school had held discussions with U SPORTS before the program was scrapped. 

Canadian Student-Athlete Association urges school to reconsider

In its response to SFU's bombshell announcement on April 4, a non-profit student-athlete association sent a letter to president Joy Johnson, urging the school to reconsider the "finality of its decision."

It also encouraged the school to engage in discussions with U SPORTS, Canada West and the NCAA, if necessary, to negotiate an exemption that would allow the school to compete at Canada's highest level of university sport.

The Canadian Student-Athlete Association was officially launched in July 2020, in what the organization says was in response to decisions made by colleges and universities, university sports organizations and governments when the COVID-19 pandemic hit that "dramatically impacted" the lives and careers of student-athletes.

"The goal of institutions overseeing scholastic athletics should be to operate in the best interests of student-athletes first and foremost," Canadian Student-Athlete Association founder Garret Holmes wrote.

"This decision, as it stands, is not in the best interests of student-athletes and needs to be, or at a minimum, put on hold until every opportunity to find a workable alternative that allows the football team to continue play, has been examined fully."

An April 11 letter from SFU provost Wade Parkhouse and Students and Students and International vice-provost Rummana Khan Hemani stated the school understands the situation has been challenging.

"We understand and have deep empathy for the stress and emotional toil created by the decision to discontinue football at SFU," the letter stated.

"Our focus remains on our football student-athletes."

The letter said challenges with the football program have been present for "many years," as well as discussions on how they could keep the program.

"Efforts have been made to explore possible options to sustain the football team over many years."

The school also echoed recent statements made by Hanson regarding if the school could have joined U SPORTS. Hanson told the NOW on April 5 that the move would be "very complex" and "unprecedented."

"We are aware there are questions being asked about why SFU did not pursue an exemption to play in U SPORTS," the letter continued.

"The U SPORTS bylaws/membership requirements state that a university may not play in the NCAA where a U SPORTS sport is offered. In addition, SFU would be required to have four sports (2 men's, 2 women's) in U SPORTS.

"SFU is committed to the NCAA and has 18 teams currently competing, some of which would be impacted by those U SPORTS bylaws. To pursue an exemption to these bylaws would require significant time, with no guarantee of success, during which time our student-athletes would face additional stress and uncertainty."

The letter expressed support for Hanson, who has come under intense criticism since the decision was announced last week.

The letter claims Hanson has been subjected to "horrific abuses" over the last few days.

"To see this level of incivility from within a sporting community is incredibly disappointing.

"The decision to discontinue the football program was made by SFU’s leadership team alone. Ms. Hanson has been asked to support student-athletes through the next steps, which she has done with calm, understanding and compassion.

"This has been a very difficult situation, but the decision has been made. Our focus now is on supporting our student-athletes as they determine their next steps."