B.C.'s football community is still trying to come to grips with the reality that Simon Fraser University (SFU) no longer has a varsity program.
SFU president Joy Johnson announced Tuesday (April 4) that the Burnaby post-secondary school had decided to end its football program, effective immediately.
Earlier this year, SFU said the Texas-based Lone Star Conference decided not to renew its affiliate membership agreement with the Red Leafs and the upcoming scheduled season would be their last, leaving the school without a league to play in starting in 2024.
They were a part of NCAA Div. II competition — the second highest level of collegiate sports in the U.S.
Johnson said SFU will honour athletic scholarship commitments for those that choose to stay and meet eligibility requirements for the 2023-24 school year.
Spring camp 'just finished'
Kristie Elliott was a kicker with SFU for four years and made history along the way, becoming the first female player to play and score for a Canadian college football team.
After her playing days were over, she became the director of football operations and recruitment for the program that gave her so much.
Elliott said she and other staff members were called to individual meetings Tuesday morning before a larger team meeting was held to break the news.
She said yesterday's announcement blindsided her, especially since the program still had one year left in the Lone Star Conference before the agreement ended.
"We had a two-year contract," she told the NOW.
"We thought that we were set in stone to have one more season at least. So, when we came to the meeting and she [athletic director Theresa Hanson] said the program is terminated immediately, I think that's where the major shock came from."
Elliott added many asked Hanson and administration why they couldn't play during the upcoming season, but there was no concrete answer or reason provided.
This has ultimately left many players in peril.
"We found out after spring camp just finished....That's not a lot of time for other players, like current players, to find a new school to go to and it takes a long time for the recruiting process," Elliott explained.
"So now, players are unsure if they're going to even be able to have a season and for some players, it's their senior year. It's very difficult to transfer."
'University explored all avenues'
In an interview, Hanson told the NOW that numerous options were considered, but none were feasible.
Hanson said SFU's athletics department started exploring other avenues once it was determined the conference renewal agreement was not going to be approved after the 2024 season.
"The landscape for Div.II football has significantly changed since we joined the NCAA," she explained.
"And in recent years, there's been a number of Div. II football schools that have discontinued their programs across our conference that we played in [Great Northwest Athletic Conference] and across Div. II. In January of this year, the Lone Star Conference council presidents had voted not to renew Simon Fraser in another two-year affiliate agreement. So, it was, at that time, with that announcement, we found that we have no place to play as of 2024.
"We had stated that 'OK, we need to do a lot of research, we need to look at what options are available to us.'"
Hanson said they talked to the NCAA, NAIA and U SPORTS — Canada's highest level of university sport.
"Within the NCAA, there was no opportunity to join another conference. And to be an independent Div. II football school is not a sustainable option for us short or long-term because we'd have a very tough time getting games. It would be very tough to actually meet our requirements for the NCAA."
She says they pursued discussions with U SPORTS, but they knew that, as a Div. II NCAA school, they didn't meet the existing bylaws for membership within the organization.
"Pursuing an exemption for football only would be very complex, it's unprecedented," Hanson said.
"There's no path for that and it would cause more uncertainty for our athletes with something that has absolutely no assurance that it would happen.
"There's no single football school that plays in an association when their entire athletic program is in a different association. So it makes it a very unprecedented, complex situation with absolutely no assurance. So with all of that information, the university carefully considered everything and made the determination at that time that football was no longer a viable sport for SFU."
'Not even close to the best interest of us at all'
Former running-back Mason Glover played with SFU for roughly five seasons, his last being this past year.
Glover said he was doing some coaching during the spring and was planning on joining the Red Leafs' staff in the fall to help with the running backs.
In an interview with the NOW, Glover echoed similar comments by his former teammate Elliot.
"We felt like we got blindsided. In the meeting, they basically told us that they've exhausted pretty much all the options that they felt were available to us," he explained.
"We had a whole schedule [for next season] planned out, ready to go with travel and everything, ready to go. So we could have played at least in another additional season."
Glover added the timing of the announcement was poor as well as the execution.
"None of the alumni, none of the student-athletes were consulted about any decisions," he said.
"Everybody was definitely impacted by the decision. It's not only just SFU football players but the high school students that committed to the program that went against other offers that they potentially had to invest their future at SFU now have to go find another home when a lot of teams have already closed their recruiting for the year.
"So it just kind of puts a bunch of people at risk. The fact that they [the school] said this was the best interest for us, means they basically, have no idea who they're talking to.
"This was not even close to the best interest of us at all."
Petition launched to reverse decision
Meanwhile, the SFU Football Alumni Society has launched a petition to try and get the university's decision reversed.
When asked by the NOW if the petition would have any significant chance of seeing the program reinstated, Hanson said there's "not an opportunity to change the decision."
"There's a lot of layers," she explained.
"Some coaches are no longer working here. Athletes, several athletes, have already been in contact with other universities to move on, both in U SPORTS and the transfer portal to other NCAA schools.
"So you know, it's in motion and we did that so that so the athletes would have the opportunity at this time to do that. If it was any later, they're not able to get into schools, they're not able to have the same opportunity."