Friday, June 12, 2009

CIS restricts dual membership with NCAA

The Ubyssey-edited version of this can be found at

Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), the organization which governs high-performance athletics at Canadian universities, sent a bold message to schools looking to join the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at their annual general meeting on Thursday. Voting 55-20 in favour, CIS members instituted a policy which places stringent restrictions on schools who pursue membership in both the CIS and the NCAA. Under the new rule, member schools are only allowed to play in the NCAA in sports not offered by the CIS.

“The NCAA is a gigantic, multi-sport business entity and quite frankly the CIS is not. So we believe that it could be a threat to the existence of CIS and we reacted accordingly,” said Dick White, University of Regina athletic director and outgoing CIS president. “I hope it at least creates some pause for thought, but I also understand that the school and its athletic director and its president will ultimately make a decision which they think is best.”

The two schools in question are UBC and SFU, the only CIS members who have openly expressed interest in the NCAA. SFU's senior athletic director Dr. David Murphy spoke passionately against the membership restrictions during the meeting, arguing that it “reeks of insecurity and protectionism,” and that the CIS shouldn't shy away from competition, but rather use it as an opportunity to better itself and grow stronger. Dr. Murphy expressed his regret that the new rule was adopted, but that SFU's plans are already in motion:“The [NCAA] application form is in. We wait, and we find out in July whether or not we have been accepted.”

For UBC, which deferred its decision regarding NCAA application until at least 2010, this provides one more piece of the puzzle. Uncertainty over what action, if any, the CIS would take regarding dual membership has long been one of the sticking points in the university's consideration of NCAA membership. While the new rule is not an outright ban on dual membership, it essentially makes the pursuit of the NCAA an all-or-nothing proposal since the pool of sports offered by the NCAA but not by the CIS is very narrow.

“We're not saying 'you can't join',” explained CIS CEO Marg McGregor. “UBC and SFU and any university that wants to can join. But as a result of that, we will not be the league of convenience. We want to be the league of choice.”

The issue of personal choice was indeed one of the key reasons UBC opposed the new rule. “I speak in favour of dual membership because I believe it does provide universities choices,” said Theresa Hanson, director of varsity athletics at UBC. “From a dual membership perspective, we could still make a commitment to CIS sport, continue some sports in Canada as well as move a considerable number of sports to the NCAA.”

UBC and SFU were not the only schools to oppose the new rule, with a handful of other schools also expressing their disapproval. Ivan Joseph of Ryerson opposed the change because he thought allowing dual membership would enable more Canadian athletes to stay at Canadian schools. Jennifer Brenning from Carleton was also opposed, pointing to the fact that the CIS now has three different sets of dual membership rules depending on whether you want to play in the NCAA, the NAIA, or the CCAA. Before this year, the CIS had no policy at all on dual membership.

While uncertainty surrounding dual membership has finally come to an end, the result doesn't make UBC's NCAA decision any easier. One of the biggest issues, academic accreditation, remains unresolved and Theresa Hanson acknowledges that the closer you examine the issue of NCAA membership, the more complex it becomes.“I think it provides more challenges, the outcome, but I really think that [Toope] will make a decision that's in the best interests of the university and of our student athletes.”