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Simon Fraser University ceases its football program

‘We no longer believe we are providing an exceptional experience for student-athletes’
Simon Fraser University is pictured in Burnaby, B.C., Tuesday, Apr 16, 2019. The university has ceased its football program, school president Joy Johnson announced Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Simon Fraser University has discontinued its football program, school president Joy Johnson announced Tuesday.

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

Simon Fraser posted a 1-9 record last year. But in March, the football team promoted Eric Taylor to offensive coordinator and hired Samuel Richard as its special-teams coordinator.

“Given Simon Fraser University’s long and proud football history, this is a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly,” Johnson said in a statement. “I want to thank all the student-athletes and coaches, past and present, for being part of that history.

“However, the football landscape has changed significantly in recent years and we no longer believe we are providing an exceptional experience for student-athletes.”

The Red Leafs moved to the Lone Star Conference in 2022.

“The B.C. Lions are deeply saddened and disappointed to hear the news about Simon Fraser University’s football program,” the CFL club said in a statement. “Today’s news impacts several dedicated individuals, in particular the student-athletes, coaches, staff, countless volunteers, parents and, of course, alumni, who tirelessly dedicated themselves to the SFU program.

“The long and rich history included a very proud chapter that highlights its bond with our team and league. Lui Passaglia, Rick Klassen, Nick Hebeler, Glen Jackson, Sean Millington and Angus Reid are just a few of the greats who came through SFU, building a tradition that continues today with current Lions Michael Couture and Jordan Herdman-Reed. The B.C. Lions will continue to do everything we can to support amateur football at all levels in this province.”

Passaglia was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Other SFU graduates to also be enshrined include kicker Dave Cutler (1998), offensive lineman Dan Ferrone (2013) and defensive lineman Doug Brown (2016). Among the former players still in the CFL are receiver Lemar Durant (Ottawa) and Herdman-Reed’s twin brother, Justin, a linebacker with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“We at the CFL are disappointed that SFU is discontinuing its football program,” tweeted commissioner Randy Ambrosie. “It has a storied history and many ties to our league.

“Thinking of the many people, current and alumni, who have been part of SFU football. Thank you for your countless contributions to our great game.”

Jim Mullin, the president of Football Canada, was also very disappointed with Simon Fraser’s decision.

“The SFU administration did not contemplate their student-athletes’ future, which is perplexing,” he said. “Players are left scrambling for opportunities via social media.

“We will work to find a path for SFU football to continue to compete and engage in dialogue with active stakeholders to get this back on track.”

The school’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.

Simon Fraser has had a football team since 1965.

“We made this decision now to give students time to make other plans for their athletic careers if they so choose,” Johnson said. “All students impacted are being supported with one-on-one guidance regarding next steps.

“We will support football athletes who want to explore options outside of SFU, and will honour athletic scholarship commitments for those who choose to remain at SFU and meet eligibility requirements for the 2023-24 school year.”

Johnson also said the school’s athletic and Hall of Fame banquet, which was scheduled for Wednesday night, has been postponed until the fall.

“SFU Athletics will engage with the SFU football community on how best to celebrate more than 50 years of history in this sport,” she said. “More details will be shared at a later date.

“Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our football legacy. We are so grateful for everything you have contributed to the university, both on and off the field.”

The school will continue to field teams in 18 NCAA Division II sports, Johnson added.

Simon Fraser 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.

Simon Fraser appeared in the 2003 Uteck Bowl, dropping a 60-9 decision to Saint Mary’s. The Huskies went on to drop a 14-7 decision to Laval in the Vanier Cup.

Simon Fraser’s football team played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) from 1965 until 2001.

For years, the football team went under the name Clan. But that was discontinued in 2020 and the school renamed its varsity athletic teams Red Leafs.

READ MORE: Two years after dumping the Clan, Simon Fraser teams will be known as the Red Leafs