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Injunction denied to have SFU football program reinstated

SFU football players had filed a notice of civil claim against the school after the cancellation of the program.
SFU president Joy Johnson announced on April 4 that the school was ending its football program, effective immediately.

A B.C. Supreme Court justice has ruled against granting an injunction to reinstate the SFU football program. 

Justice Michael Stephens said in a written decision that he has "significant doubt" about the strength of the merits of the plaintiff's claims against SFU. 

"In my assessment, the plaintiffs have not demonstrated a strong prima facie case for their claim of breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation on its merits. 

"Having failed to demonstrate a strong prima facie case, the plaintiffs have not met the governing legal test to obtain a mandatory injunction."

SFU president Joy Johnson announced on April 4 that the school decided to immediately end its football program.

In response, a civil claim on behalf of SFU football players Gideone Kremiler, Kimo Hio, Andrew Lirag, Ryan Barthelson and Dayton Ingenhaag was filed in B.C. Supreme Court on April 13, claiming the school had breached its contract with players.

But in his decision, Justice Stephens said while players signed Athletic Financial Aid Agreements or Student-Athlete Agreements, there is no mention of the alleged recruitment contracts in the documents. 

"The plaintiffs provide no previous case authority where a student has successfully established that an oral contract existed with a university that contractually committed the university to provide reasonable notice of the termination of a varsity sport program — despite the cost or risks to the university of running such a program, nor the potential impact on student-athletes, including members of other varsity athletic programs of the university, during a notice period.

"Nor have I been referred to any a case where a team coach, without any actual authority to bind a university, nevertheless bound the university (on the basis of apparent or ostensible authority) to a contractual obligation to a student to run a particular varsity sport and to give reasonable notice (such that the varsity sport would have to run during the notice period) of a decision to terminate it."

While he ruled against the injunction being granted, Stephens said the court is cognizant of the disappointment. 

"The court is cognizant of the plaintiffs’ understandable deep disappointment at SFU’s termination of the football program.

"This court does not trivialize the hardship they feel from the cancellation of the football program and associated cancellation of the upcoming football season." 

In an interview with the NOW on April 5, SFU athletic director Theresa Hanson said the school explored "all avenues" to keep the program going.

SFU reveals special advisor

Simon Fraser University says Bob Copeland, senior vice-president of McLaren Global Sports Solutions, has been chosen as the special advisor to look at the future of the program. 

On April 20, the school announced Johnson had directed them to appoint a special advisor to review and make recommendations regarding potential sustainable opportunities for football.

The school says a final report will be made available in September. 

As part of the review, terms of reference include: 

  • Provide an independent assessment regarding the viability of resuming an inter-university football program at SFU in 2024 or later
  • Evaluate support for competitive exhibition game opportunities for SFU football student-athletes in 2023 as a means of transitioning to a potential new operating model and league in 2024
  • Invite the participation of SFU football stakeholders in the Football Review including, but not limited to: 
    • Current SFU football student-athletes
    • Student-athlete representatives from the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC)
    • Simon Fraser Students' Society and other student groups
    • SFU Football Alumni Association representatives, athletics alumni and other alumni
    • Football program benefactors
    • SFU senior leadership
    • Athletics department leadership, coaches and staff
    • Other affected SFU community members who wish to participate in the process
  • Initiate a dialogue with selected football governing bodies to explore the feasibility and requirements of SFU football being granted membership status including U SPORTS and Canada West 
  • Seek the perspectives of other football stakeholders in Canada including the Canadian Football League, Football Canada and others that may be identified
  • Identify key performance indicators related to operating a competitive inter-university football program at SFU that provides an exceptional student-athlete experience
  • Analyze the recent operating budgets for SFU football and assess future program investments required to operate a competitive and sustainable inter-university football program at SFU 
  • Identify the impacts and support related to offering an inter-university football program at SFU
  • Issue a final report to SFU outlining key findings and options for SFU to consider related to the reinstatement of inter-university football

President makes first public comments since announcement

SFU also released a video statement from president Joy Johnson, who made her first public comments since the original statement announcing the cancellation of the program. 

"As we were waiting a decision on the court injunction application filed against the university, it wasn't appropriate to make public comments about the end of SFU's NCAA football program," she said. 

"I want to start with an apology. I know this has been a difficult time for many people in our community and I'm sorry about the impact and stress that the end of our NCAA football program has caused for those affected, especially football student-athletes, staff and alumni. SFU recognizes how important football is to you. 

"I'm also sorry that student-athletes have been caught in the middle of this situation with the ensuing court case. That isn't fair." 

"I know that we have some work ahead for all of us to rebuild trust, but that's the work we are committed to doing as we move forward."