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SFU first Canadian school in NCAA

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David Murphy, 778.782.4080, d_murphy@sfu.ca
Don MacLachlan, PAMR, 778.782.3929, donmac@sfu.ca

July 10, 2009

In a historic return to its athletic roots, Simon Fraser University was approved today as the first non-U.S. member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the world’s largest college sports organization.

Beginning with the 2011-12 season, after a two-year transition period, all of SFU’s Clan varsity teams will compete in the NCAA’s Division II in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC).

The Division II membership committee approved SFU’s application at its meeting today (Friday, July 10) at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis IN.

"This is a first for a Canadian university, and it reflects SFU's long history of competing in U.S. varsity associations and conferences,” said SFU President Michael Stevenson.

“It means a high level of competition and challenge for our athletes. As has always been the case, our primary concern is that our athletes succeed as students. The NCAA has strong academic requirements and we will maintain the high academic standards that SFU has always demanded from all Clan teams.”

SFU now has 19 Clan teams competing in the small-college National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in the U.S. and Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS). One, men’s wrestling, now competes in both NAIA and CIS.

GNAC includes nine full-member schools in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, and four football-only members in Washington, California, Utah and Oregon.

When Simon Fraser opened its doors in 1965, the Clan began competing in the NAIA. In 1997, however, many of SFU’s traditional NAIA rivals began moving their programs into the larger NCAA.

SFU applied to gain admittance under an exception based on its history of competing in the NAIA but the NCAA simply tabled the application. The association reopened the issue in 2007, and in January 2008 moved to allow Canadian institutions to pursue membership in Division II. There are three Divisions in the NCAA (I, II and III).

"I am extremely pleased with today’s decision,” said SFU’s senior director of athletics, David Murphy.

“It’s humbling to know we have been chosen as the first foreign university to compete in the NCAA as a member. I believe we are reaching back to the original intentions and philosophy of the university’s founders: to offer a great Canadian education with the ability to compete athletically in the NCAA."

Added Lorne Davies, SFU's legendary first athletics director: "It is the most important step in SFU athletic history. The athletics department is keeping in step with the university's commitment to provide excellence in education and athletics and to challenge our students and student athletes to be the best."

Jay Triano, head coach of the NBA Toronto Raptors and a former Clan basketball star and coach, said: “Competing in the United States is what, in my mind, separated SFU from the rest of Canada when I chose to attend the school as a student-athlete as well as when I began my coaching career there.

“To be the best, athletes need to compete against the best and I believe that by joining the NCAA, Simon Fraser University is putting themselves in a position to do just that.  On top of that, the student athletes who attend SFU will also benefit from the world-class education that the school provides.  As a proud alumnus, I couldn’t be happier for everyone involved.”


SFU will now go through a two-year “candidacy” period, then would become fully active in the 2011-12 season. While SFU is in its candidacy period it can continue to compete in both the NAIA and CIS.

The end-goal, as described by David Murphy, SFU’s senior director of athletics, is this: “SFU wishes to place all of our varsity sports where we will achieve the highest level of competition for all teams. In our pursuit of excellence we seek the very best competitive opportunities for our student athletes.”

In the 1990s, when many of SFU’s NAIA competitors moved to the NCAA, SFU was left as an “unaffiliated” member of the NAIA. This created scheduling and other logistical problems for many SFU teams still playing in the NAIA. For those playing in the CIS, additional costs and time required for travel to and from play in the CIS Canada West division became what Murphy calls “formidable”.

SFU’s historic U.S. competition now is largely in the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference that SFU is joining.
“Division II suits SFU’s size and approach and philosophy,” said Murphy. ‘Division II is right for us.”

There are limits on financial-aid awards to Division II athletes. Said Murphy: “Many Division II student-athletes pay for school through a combination of scholarship money, grants, student loans and what they can earn from jobs—just like any other students.”

As well, the NCAA has high standards for academic performance by member-athletes. It requires each school to have a Faculty Athletic Representative who is a professor and who oversees the compliance with the rules on academic eligibility and athletic financial awards.

Other NCAA academic safeguards require that each school must publish the athletes’ progress toward degree requirements, must publish their graduation rates, must establish a Student Athlete Advising Committee, and must conduct a study of the intercollegiate athletics program at least once every five years. NCAA coaches must log all athletic-related activity (e.g. practices, weight training etc.) to safeguard against an imbalanced athletic regimen. There are also recruiting restrictions imposed by the NCAA which protect prospective athletes from harassment.

One difference between the NCAA and the CIS is that the NCAA permits only four years of eligibility vs. five years in the CIS. But if coaches “red-shirt” a player (remove him or her from active playing) for a year, the athlete can still compete in their fifth year. While red-shirted, players do not accumulate time towards eligibility.

Murphy also notes that Division II athletics programs are financed from the university’s budget like any other academic department on campus. “Our estimates indicate that the net costs of NCAA membership for SFU will be slightly less than, or about the same as, our current situation with NAIA and CIS conference membership.”

The NCAA Division II is governed by a council of university/college presidents. SFU President Michael Stevenson will thus be involved with the governance of the NCAA and will be the lead for policy and procedure.

SFU has 19 Clan teams. One, men’s wrestling, now competes in both the NAIA and CIS.

The teams:

1. Men's Basketball (CIS)
2. Women's Basketball (CIS)
3. Men's Cross Country (NAIA)
4. Women's Cross Country (NAIA)
5. Men's Golf (NAIA)
6. Women's Golf (NAIA)
7. Football (CIS)
8. Men's Soccer (NAIA)
9. Women's Soccer (NAIA)
10. Softball (NAIA)
11. Men's Swimming (NAIA)
12. Women's Swimming (NAIA)
13. Men's Indoor Track and Field (NAIA)
14. Women's Indoor Track and Field (NAIA)
15. Men's Outdoor Track and Field (NAIA)
16. Women's Outdoor Track and Field (NAIA)
17. Volleyball (CIS)
18. Men's Wrestling (NAIA and CIS)
19. Women's Wrestling (CIS)



Comment Guidelines

Tim Owens

Jay Triano said Competing in the United States is what, in my mind, separated SFU from the rest of Canada". He is correct, but what a sad statement about the leadership of the school and its' commitment to its' own country.

Shame on Simon Fraser University.

sandy Bains

Shame on SFU. I hope Canadian Goverment steps in and remove any and all funding and Privilages that SFU


What about the men's lacrosse team? Will it become a varsity sport now?

Wes Regan

I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of whatsoever.SFU is once again demonstrating that its scope and aspirations extend well beyond our provincial and national borders, this time through collegiate athletics. By competing at both the CIS and NAIA level SFU offers student athletes an opportunity to compete in a more intense environment and also potentially make connections in the USA. No doubt only strengthening the competitive culture of the university and raising its profile abroad.


This is a sad day for SFU and for Canadian athletes. I seem to recall when SFU was in NAIA they routinely got their butts kicked in just about every sport (especially football) with the occasional random success thrown in.

"For those playing in the CIS, additional costs and time required for travel to and from play in the CIS Canada West division became what Murphy calls formidable."...but then Murphy goes on to say that the costs in NCAA will be slightly less or even the same as before.

Why are my tax dollars going to support a university that doesn't want to be part of Canada?

D. Huber

Congrats to my alma mater! It's been a long time coming, and hard work by many. I'm looking forward to watching the new, exciting competition. Great work.. and now go out and show them how it's done!!



The CIS should eject all of your teams immediately.


I think its great that SFU atheletes get to compete in the NCAA.. It allows Canadians to study in their home country while gaining experience and visibility in US sports... Maybe we will be able to produce more pro-athletes!

Andy Park

Sandy and Tim,

I understand your National Pride but your vision is shortsighted. SFU going NCAA is fantastic achievement not only for SFU but Canadian collegiate athletics as a whole. The NCAA offers a level of exposure and competition that dwarfs the CIS and NAIA. This move will put SFU on the map and at the forefront of every sports fan's minds globally. Not only that, elite high school athletes in every sport will now stay home for school. Ask SFU coach what their biggest hurdle is and they will say that they can't recruit top Canadian high school players because they want the limelight of the NCAA system. Now they have an option right in their backyards and the best Canadian athletes will stay home. This is GOOD for Canada - why on earth should the Canadian Government remove funding?

As for the lax team, I doubt it. Their closest competition is NDNU in California (current in shambles) and Dominican University, a developing program at best. They would have to play ALL their games on the East coast which is a financial and lgoistical nightmare. The competition is better and the logistics make sense in the virtual varsity league in which they currently compete.

Craig Kohler

Best wishes on your new endeavor! Here's hoping that a broadcaster will pick up your games.

Brendan Holden

what funding does harper even give canadian universities? NCAA for the interest of the STUDENTS. great decision for sure.


In order to progress, especially in football and basketball (US dominated sports), SFU has to play with and against the best teams. Not shame on SFU, this is a fantastic opportunity for the athletes.

recent sfu grad

Are you guys kidding me with this shame talk?

aside from the practicality of this move, and the fact that 14 of 19 sfu teams already compete in the NAIA (an american league), and the fact that basketball already plays exhibition games against ncaa opponents, this is a tremendous move.

"shame on anyone who tries to go anywhere else in the world and represent canada in a positive light! You should all stay here your entire lives, compete against one another and just be content. shame on you indeed" Are you guys serious?!

This will highlight athletics, hold students to a higher academic standard (though sfu already had a very high standard - but the naia lacked), and allow students who would have otherwise gone south for scholarships to stay in canada but still compete in the ncaa.

I understand this hurts the CIS, but there were only 5 sfu teams in the cis anyways, with women's basketball and wrestling being the only only ones on the national scene lately.

Get over your american inferiority complex and understand that this is a good thing.

Maybe we should pull the raptors and jays out of their respective leagues as well, it's just such a shame that they are competing against those damn southerners.


As a former graduate of SFU, I am ecstastic that we are joining the NCAA. I was never heavily involved in sports at SFU, but remember fondly the reports about how well we did against American schools in the NAIA. SFU has a long standing tradition competing against American schools, and this big step forward is not only a logical move, but one that reflects vision.

SFU already has a strong academic reputation in Canada. By joining the NCAA, its reputation in athletics, which is already very strong, will truly put SFU on the map internationally.

SFU is becoming an internationally renowned university by virtue of its strong liberal arts programs and faculty; its students also play a critical role in building SFU's reputation, whether it be in academics or athletics. Joining NCAA will give its student-athletes a chance to do so.


Fantastic news! Now Canadian hopefuls to get into professional sports such as basketball will want to get their education in Canada rather than go off to the U.S.


This is a bad idea, CIS is where Canadian schools need to be. DivII is in no way better compition, infact it will probably be less of a challenge to the teams moving from CIS.


thought you might find this interesting


NCAA! Best thing to ever happen to SFU! Go SFU! (Will finally pay money to see a SFU game now).

Div II today, and hopefully Div I tomorrow!!! (NCAA March Madness, sweet 16, elite 8, final 4!!!).

To be the best you need to beat the best. So to the vocal minority who want to stay in the CIS... stop settling for medocrity, that is so Canadian eh!


I think this is a great move because now highly recruited Canadian athletes will have more reason to stay in Canada rather than seek out an American university for reasons such as full ride scholarships or more competition.


Great news, good news or just news? I would be excited about it if the Clan were an independent (eg like Notre Dame) being saddled to a mediocre conference I have never heard of doesn't make me all warm and fuzzy. I still recall the 73-0 shellacking by Chico State University during the NAIA days.

I must confess I am particularly excited for Shellie Howieson and her excellent Women's Soccer Program. Her program deserves NCAA calibre competition.... as for the other programs I'm not so sure


Way to go, Clan. As a high school basketball coach in BC, I am pleased that our Canadian athletes have another option to pursue their dreams. Now they can compete at (possibly) a higher level and remain in Canada. Best of luck SFU.


I wonder how Title IX will affect SFU?


This is awesome! We live in a moderately democratic country so some opinions above are allowed to be expressed - but it is paranoid garbage to think it is better for SFU to isolate itself and not go for such a great opportunity like playing in the NCAA.

I am beaming with pride for my school - SFU!


Welcome to the NCAA. I'm from the U.S. and graduated from three Division I schools (FLorida State, Michigan State, Univeristy of Hawaii). I think it's great that SFU students will have an excellent SFU education and the networking and recognition that membership in the NCAA will provide. It is truly a win-win situation. My affiliation with the schools above gives me an automatic "in" with the alumni of those schools AND the schools in their respective conferences. During interviews I have had a lot to talk about and have been able to establish a rapport based on shared experiences. It's a huge advantage and I'm happy for the SFU students who will now have the best of both worlds. Congrats and welcome!

Michael Silverman

This is an excellent opportunity for our athletes to compete at a higher level, affording more recognition for our student-athletes and university in general. Sure, we'll face some growing/competition pains, but in the long-run this a positive move for the school.




It is terrific SFU has been admitted in the NCAA. Not only will it provide student athletes with a unique opputunity it will encourage the athletes to strive to better themselves at their sport. SFU is a unique school and the oppurtunities are endless there. Congrats SFU!

Jim Rome

Great to see SFU putting itself on the map


Actually, as an SFU employee, it was only when SFU joined CIS that I cared about SFU Athletics. I know little of NCAA II schools, have zero historical attachment to them, and SFU playing against them holds zero interest to me. I am disappointed that SFU took the road of least resistance, and instead of working visibly and strongly to reform CIS, they simply bailed. When I was a high school student I had many student friends who didn't want to go to SFU because they looked at it as a university that wished it was American rather than Canadian due to the fact that SFU intentionally wanted to be in foreign athletic conferences rather than in Cdn ones. This decision also kills any local rivalries that may have developed over time.

One last thing - Vancouver is hosting the Winter Olympics. How sad that SFU does not have a single varsity sport that is a "winter" sport. And sadly, our decision to join NCAA II probably kills any chance of SFU Athletics honouring winter sports through its varsity teams.

So long Clan, you don't interest me any longer. But at least I've still got the pipe band!


All of you stay-at-home athletics supporters have your heads in the sand. I would bet that not one of you even takes the time to go watch any SFU athletics. Anyone, and I repeat, anyone who competes in the traditional "college" sports - be it basketball, football, volleyball etc. knows full well that the American NCAA schools have programs that put any CIS member to shame. Like a previous post said earlier, all of our best athletes are going there already! It comes down to funding - funding for scholarships, exposure and facilities. Like it or not, when you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

P.S. maybe the school can consider an NCAA div II hockey team now?

Just a thought


This is so fantastic!

I'm ashamed that there are people who find this shameful.

I am so proud to be attending a school which will be the only Canadian school recognized internationally on such a competitive level.



This is great news. The US is top notch when it comes to collegiate sports and to have SFU included in the NCAA will only help improve our athletes.


This might be one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. We'll look back in 25 years when a swath of other schools have decided to join the NCAA and wonder where the hell we went wrong.


Dear Joker,

if SFU Athletics had wanted a hockey team, we would have had one years ago. It would be nice if SFU Athletics was supportive of traditional winter sports, but that's not really their way. And folks, we're joining NCAA Div II. We're not offering full ride scholarships, nor are we offering the best competition - that would be NCAA Div. I (for those traditional US college sports).

From an exposure point of view, SFU Athletics has always ranked behind UBC locally, and any hopes of improving that visibility is reduced when we play teams from colleges that SFU students, prospective students, and potential donors have zero knowledge of.


this is great..way to put SFU on the map! This will not only boost sponsorship which brings much needed funding to our athletes but it will help make SFU a better school as whole, maybe if canada juiced up on funding quality schools like SFU wouldnt have to double dip in USA only leagues...

Tim Downey

Well ok then sfu is in love with ncaa 2 ok so be it but I never want to see SFU apart of CIS ever again, tell me again why my tax dollars goes to this university? Don't let the door hit you on the way out.


This is fantastic news!! Some of the people here seem to forget a number of "Canadian atheletes" go across the border to study and play. I don't see them bashing those individuals?

With this leap to the NCAA maybe we can see a few of these "Canadian atheletes" stay in Canada....this makes the university more appealing, what is so wrong with hooking up the NCAA? All I can see is National pride coming through in the comments but nothing of any substance to tell me this is a bad move.


Division 2 and no scholarships, I don't think elite Canadian athletes would want to waste their time. It will still attract mediocre ones compared to American colleges that can give more back.


I think it's great for SFU! But I don't quite see how this will be beneficial from an academic perspective if funding for education is already being cut back... How is the already thin academic budget going to cover full scholarships for athletics?? Anyone care to enlighten me?


Sorry to say to the haters out there, but the NCAA is the best university/college sports league in North America. Given the history of SFU competing against US teams in the NAIA who have moved to the NCAA, it makes sense not only geographically, but competitively for SFU to raise their game. Why compete only against Canadian teams? What is the purpose? The next step is professional sports leagues that involve both countries. SFU's motto is "Thinking of the World."

Sean Esselmont

To all the non beleivers, this is an amazing first step. Coming from a football background a chance to play american football on that stage, will give our players better changes to make the step up. CIS for football is a collosal joke and waste of time with the blatant overuse of red shirting and junior systems. I bet all the top prospects in the next couple years from HS football give SFU a better look because its a better oppurtunity. For tax payers who are complaining about it ur supporting your athletes, albeit in the NCAA, infact thats better, stop crying.

mike lan

after reading through these posts I cant believe that some people call themselves canadians. I mean dont we all want to be a better worker or have a better reputation or a better life well, to achieve greatness you have to start from somewhere. But stop with all this true to your country stuff hmm, do you know why our best athletes would rather go to a weaker school in the US then stay in canada to get an education. because not only are they able to get build their skills but also be recognized for their efforts by receiving full ride schlorships. Also they are able to received some of the best education that this world has to offer to them. sure sfu is entering as a div 2 school now but eventually they are able to get to div 1 and beyond. I think its great that by doing this some of our best athletes will stay home to enrich their education as well as their skills on the court and bring students up from the us to help build a winner.

Baseball Mom

Thank goodness SFU will be NCAA! Why can't our kids get great CANADIAN educations and compete at the NCAA level? Why should they have to go to colleges/universities in the States to play, develop and get "scouted"? Welcome to the Party SFU.


Whats wrong with a team going to play in the NCAA I think its great. I think that ncaa is trying to show that basketball is still loved in basketball... they are betraying canada they are proving that canada has some good players in the college level