Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Simon Fraser to NCAA through U.S. eyes

This story describes Simon Fraser's move into NCAA Division II from the eyes of a U.S. university, Western Washington University, which will compete with the Clan starting in 2011-12.

Canadian school steps up to NCAA

Simon Fraser University has become the first non-American university to be accepted into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II ­— a decision that became possible when the NCAA Division II passed the pilot program to allow Canadian universities the option to explore joining the association in January 2008.

The process began a couple years ago when the University of British Columbia initiated joining the NCAA Division II.
The decision on the University of British Columbia's entrance has been put on hold for a while, but is still ongoing, said Richard Hannan, commissioner for the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC).

Simon Fraser is currently exploring the opportunity to join the GNAC, a goal that the founders of Simon Fraser had the intention of doing since the school first opened.

Before Simon Fraser can begin play in the GNAC, a two phase process must be complete. Simon Fraser is currently going through their candidacy period for 2010-11.

“Not many changes need to be made from an athletes perspective, but we’re going in and looking at compliance issues and how we will have to do business with GNAC,” said David Murphy, the current athletic director at Simon Fraser.

The following year, 2012, will be the provision year where changes will have to have been made so that by 2012-13, Simon Fraser will be able to be full, active members in the conference.

GNAC is a conference composed of Western, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Central Washington University, Montana State University Billings, Northwest Nazarene University, Saint Martin’s University, Seattle Pacific University and Western Oregon University.

It competes in 12 different sports, ranging from football, basketball, golf, track and field and more.

If accepted, Simon Fraser would bring the GNAC back up to ten teams. With an even number of teams in the conference, opposed to an odd number, scheduling will be much easier, said Western Sports Information Director Paul Madison.

Simon Fraser's Murphy agrees. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has 14 teams, making independence difficult.
Easier scheduling is a built-in compatibility that Simon Fraser will have with other GNAC members, Murphy said.

Joining the GNAC would also allow the school to compete against schools with which it has already established a competitive rivalry relationship since 1965, including Western.

Murphy, the current athletic director at Simon Fraser, said that the athletic directors from the schools part of GNAC are the ones that got him interested in the move.

He said he was very much taken in with their stories about how great the rivalry was between Simon Fraser, Western, Central, Eastern and the other conference members.

And, since Western is the closest school to Simon Fraser, they would make a fantastic traveling partner for Western, Madison said. Western’s had ties with them that date back to 1966, Madison said.

“They’ll be competitive right from the get-go,” Madison said. “And to be able to have competition with them again at this level is going to be even better.”

Simon Fraser has traditionally had strong track and field, basketball, softball, soccer and golf programs, Madison said.

Simon Fraser first opened its doors Sept. 9, 1965.

Since then, the university has won more than 50 national championships in the NAIA and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS).

This past year, women's basketball was the 2009 CIS national champ along with men’s wrestling.

“Better competition makes you better,” said Kelvin “Pee Wee” Halsell, Western track and field head coach. “Simon Fraser has a strong track and field program and we continue to compete against them in team meets.”

Simon Fraser is always invited to Western’s Ralph Vernacchia Invitational and Twilite Alumni meet, two meets during the track and field season.
Western sophomore Megan Zukowski, who is from British Columbia, is a sprinter on the track team.

She said Simon Fraser has a good track and field team and it would be nice to have more competition in the conference and to have more teams involved in the GNAC.

“I can’t see any reason why they won’t be accepted,” Hannan said. “They have potential to be a great member of GNAC competitively and individually. It’s a positive opportunity for all areas.”

Simon Fraser joining the conference would not only bring more competition to Western athletics, but a better opportunity to attract Canadian recruits, said Krystal Robinson, senior forward for Western’s women’s basketball team.

“People like playing in their hometown,” Robinson said. “Simon Fraser joining our conference means that athletes would be able to come to Western for school and still have the chance to play in their hometown.”

Traveling is the only concern with Simon Fraser joining the conference, and it is a low-level concern, students are recommended to have passports Hannan said.

“Only one person has a passport on our team right now, and she’s Canadian,” Robinson said. “It will be something to get used to and will be rough at first, but it should only be tough the first year.”

Traveling will be much easier for Simon Fraser as a member of GNAC, Murphy said. Right now the school travels as far as Eastern Manitoba, which sits halfway across Canada. Flying to Fairbanks and Anchorage will be much easier, Murphy said.

“It will be a logistical problem,” Hannan said. “But our biggest concern is bringing in an institution that will provide us with a great new member that has a quality athletic and academic program.

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