CFL commissioner asks for SFU program to continue

By Dan Ralph

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is petitioning for Simon Fraser University’s football program to be allowed to continue in Canada.

On Thursday, Simon Fraser president Joy Johnston announced the school was discontinuing its football program effective immediately because it had nowhere to play following this year.

Simon Fraser was slated to compete this season in the Lone Star Conference but in February the conference announced it would not be renewing its football affiliation with the Red Leafs past the 2023 campaign.

But in a letter Saturday, Ambrosie reached out to U Sports president Pierre Arsenault and Canada West managing director Rocky Olfert to allow Simon Fraser to continue playing football within Canada. The letter was also directed to all Canadian university athletic directors and football head coaches.

“I am writing to seek your support for facilitating the continuation of that program by allowing it to return to Canada West and U Sports competition,” Ambrosie wrote. “Of course, it is well understood that the discontinuation of the Simon Fraser football program impacts student-athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, fans, and others within the university community who have put so much effort and passion into that program.

“However, the decision also affects Canadian football as a whole, including the Canadian Football League. Our game and our league have been through challenging times, yet we stand at the precipice of a new era — the beginning of a new beginning.”

What’s more, there’s talk Football Canada will also be issuing a letter regarding the SFU situation on Tuesday.

The Red Leafs moved to the Lone Star Conference in 2022. The team posted a 1-9 record last year but in March appeared poised to hit the field in 2023 with the promotion of Eric Taylor to offensive coordinator and hiring Samuel Richard as its special-teams coordinator.

Simon Fraser’s varsity teams have been competing against NCAA Division II schools south of the border since 2010-11. SFU is the only Canadian school in the NCAA and has had a football team since 1965.

While the football program would close, Johnson said SFU will continue to field teams in 18 NCAA Division II sports.

However, U Sports bylaws don’t allow member schools to belong to more than one conference. There’s been no indication that Simon Fraser has any interest in moving its other sports teams from the NCAA ranks or that it even made a formal application for its football program to rejoin U Sports and play within Canada West.

Simon Fraser’s football team competed within the Division II Great Northwest Atlantic Conference (GNAC) from 2010 to 2021, registering a 17-91 record. The school fielded a football team in U Sports from 2002 to 2009, posting a 16-47-2 record.

The Burnaby, B.C., school played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) from 1965 until 2001.

“The program at Simon Fraser University has been a significant part of our country’s football fabric,” Ambrosie said. “Simon Fraser has produced 217 CFL draft picks — the most of any school in draft history.”

And Ambrosie implored both U Sports and Canada West to do whatever they can to ensure Simon Fraser’s football program has a place to play in this country.

“Ultimately, our football ecosystem needs to rally together and do everything in our collective power to help save Simon Fraser’s program,” he said.

“I would never claim expertise in the complexity or nuances of the rules, regulations, and policies set by U Sports and Canada West, and I am aware of the sensitivities in these circumstances and of the risk of granting exceptions to otherwise clear protocols.

“Saving the Simon Fraser University football program would certainly be an exceptional result, and the risk of losing that program is certainly a circumstance that demands an exception. I understand that the first step is theirs, but the ultimate decision will be yours, and I am confident that you will make the right one.”