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SFU football program plans remain uncertain after report released

An independent special adviser found that Simon Fraser University's football program would have the potential to operate in Canada but not south of the border. Simon Fraser University is pictured in Burnaby, B.C., Tuesday, Apr 16, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

BURNABY, B.C. — An independent special adviser has found that Simon Fraser University's varsity football program would have the potential to operate in Canada but not south of the border. 

In a 136-page report released Monday, McLaren Global Sport Solutions senior vice-president Bob Copeland concluded that a "competitive football program operating in the United States is not feasible or sustainable."

However, he noted that SFU football has the potential to build "a competitive and sustainable program in Canada through membership in Canada West and U Sports."

The Burnaby, B.C.-based school announced the dissolution of its football team last April after its affiliation with an NCAA conference ended. 

In a five-paragraph statement on Monday, SFU offered some initial takeaways from the report but noted that an application to U Sports would be a "significant investment with no guaranteed outcome."

The university said a key finding was that the school must develop a strategic plan for its athletics and recreation department. Theresa Hanson left her position as SFU athletics director last month. 

Some of the recommended changes were already underway, the school said, but it will take time to "thoughtfully review the report" and determine next steps.

"On behalf of the entire SFU community, I would like to thank Mr. Copeland for the depth and thoroughness of his work, including his extensive engagement with student-athletes, coaches and staff, as well as football alumni and industry experts," said SFU president Joy Johnson.

"I recognize that the findings of this report may not be what the football community had hoped for, but Mr. Copeland has made clear that our starting point now must be setting the right foundation for athletics and recreation." 

SFU joined the Texas-based Lone Star Conference in 2021 for a two-year term. The budget allocated to running the team in the upcoming season would have been $950,000.

Johnson said in April that the decision to eliminate the program wasn't financially based, but rather on the conference's announcement it wouldn't renew its football affiliation with SFU.

That prompted five players to file a lawsuit against the school in an effort to have the program reinstated. 

Afterwards, SFU said it would bring in a special adviser to examine the future of football at the school but reiterated the team wouldn't be playing this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2023. 

The Canadian Press

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