Friday, 25 September 2009

Ron Rauch of Victoria Times-Colonist on NCAA/CIS Discussion

Clint Hamilton starts to touch on the underlying issue behind this discussion: funding. Reworking all the scholarship rules in the CIS to equal or even exceed NCAA standards will not be impactful until programs have the funding in place to dole out. Historically, most Canadian athletic departments have generally relied almost exclusively on University budgets to fund their programs. More recently, either because of proactive alumni groups within a specific sport or, less frequently, strategic-thinking Athletic Departments, some top schools have delivered, primarily through philanthropy, on noteable fundraising activities to build up endowments and/or scholarship budgets. Still, the large majority of athletic programs in Canada would not be able to implement extensive scholarships even if the rules allowed because the funds are not there. Recently, CIS Executive Director Marg McGregor was quoted describing what sounded like a strategic plan seemingly designed to start to address the need for adding more value to the CIS brand and building significant, new and sustainable partnerships. This would be a tremendous start however to properly implement a widespread scholarship program from which every program at every school can benefit, a cultural discontinuity is required that changes the approach at the leadership levels from one of relying solely on University funding and passive philanthropy to a pro-active market-driven approach that focuses on the needs of partners (alumni, students, business, community) and delivers value to that end. Or else the new rules will sound great in theory but in practice have little to no impact on keeping student/athletes at home in this "competitive marketplace".

CIS/NCAA battle hits fever pitch

When the National Collegiate Athletic Association in the United States opened its doors this summer to Simon Fraser University, the alarm bells went off in Canada.

Since the NCAA’s inception in the 1900s, top-notch Canadian athletes have been lured south of the border because of partial or full scholarships and the prestige surrounding the sports.

But now, it’s a university that is defecting. Simon Fraser will join the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (NCAA Division II) and begin playing some of its games in the United States as early as next year.

“When the NCAA changed its constitution to allow Canadian schools in, that was a key catalyst for the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sports) to look at making some changes,’’ said Clint Hamilton, the director of athletics and recreation at the University of Victoria and president of the CIS. “We have a flexible scholarship in the works and a motion will be put forward for the CIS membership to vote on in June.’’

If the flexible scholarship model is passed, it will give Canadian schools a fighting chance at keeping the best talent at home.

The system would work something like the salary cap in the National Hockey League. Universities could offer a full scholarship to one or two players and use the remainder of their budget to pay partial scholarships for other players.

“We will have to do a better job of increasing the athletic scholarships and that will mean more fundraising,” Hamilton said. “We want to keep our athletes in Canada and if we do, that will raise the level of competition and make our product better.’’

At the University of Victoria, scholarships are given for a percentage of tuition. The total amount, including fees, ranges from $4,000 to $5,000. Academic awards are also available, as are third-party monies. Lynne Beecroft, coach of the UVic women’s field hockey team, gives every player an equal amount.

A full ride at an NCAA school includes tuition, fees, books, housing and food. That amount varies from school to school, but ranges from $15,000 to $30,000.

Beecroft says she feels handcuffed when it comes time to recruit players.

“We just can’t match what the American schools can offer,’’ she said. “In the last five years, more NCAA coaches have been up here scouting our pool of young talent. For the players it is all about the experience and the glory of going and the parents buy into it.’’

With her limited budget, Beecroft used a line from a credit card commercial to recruit players. “Tuition costs $4,000, housing $8,000 and a field hockey stick $250. Playing for the Vikes is priceless.’’

UVic men’s basketball coach Craig Beaucamp says the demands on student athletes are increasing.

“We want them to train year around and that leaves them little time to earn some extra money,’’ he said. “Our goal is to produce players for our national programs.”

The NCAA experience is not for everyone. Many, like Vikes soccer player Kendra Flock, have returned to Canada to complete their eligibility.

“I had an almost full-ride scholarship at the University of Central Florida and I loved playing the soccer,’’ Flock said. “[But] it was a big transition for me and I probably wasn’t ready for it.’’

“NCAA sports is very much a business,’’ Beaucamp said. “After the kids get there, it is not what they expected and the reality sets in. A lot of them come home because they had a limited role with the team. The bottom line is that the players want to play.’’

Three members of the current UVic women’s basketball team — Debbie Yeboah, Ashley Yee and Kayla Dykstra — were approached by NCAA schools coming out of high school but they all decided to stay in Canada.

“If I stay in Canada, I can play for five years and not the four in the NCAA,’’ Yeboah said. “I have heard that the NCAA experience wasn’t that great and after one year, they return home. I was just happy to stay in Canada.”

“There is more pressure on you to play basketball in the NCAA and I wanted to focus on school and then basketball,’’ Dykstra said. “I came from a small school in Calgary and going south would have been a huge jump.’’

Claremont grad Yee said she also wanted to stay close to home.

“I knew that the Vikes had a good program and it suited me,’’ she said.

Dr. David Murphy, director of athletics at Simon Fraser, is excited about the move to the NCAA.

“The founders of our school had the vision of playing sports north and south,’’ Murphy. “Right now we have 14 teams playing NAIA [National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics] sports and six in the CIS. We will be the first foreign school in the NCAA and it will be a unique experience for us. We will be able to get the NCAA athletic experience and a Canadian education.’’

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