The fight to reinstate Simon Fraser University’s football program has become a legal battle.
The Simon Fraser Football Alumni Society will file an injunction against the Burnaby, B.C. school to reinstate its football program. The litigation is scheduled to be filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday, with the Alumni Society doing so on behalf of seven players on the team.
“Normally, an injunction is something you seek before the action is taken,” said Glen Orris, a Vancouver lawyer and former SFU football player who’s also the director of the SFU Football Alumni Society. “The action will be for breach of contract.
“What we’re saying is by terminating the program, they’re breaching the contract they had with the student-athletes.”
The move comes a week after school president Joy Johnston announced Simon Fraser was discontinuing its football program, effective immediately. Johnston added the decision wasn’t based upon money, rather the Texas-based Lone Star Conference’s announcement it would not renew its football affiliation with Simon Fraser 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.
SFU is the only Canadian school in the NCAA and has had a football team since 1965.
“I’m hoping the matter will be resolved quickly without having to deal with the legal issues,” said Orris, a former receiver at Simon Fraser who also spent three seasons with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “As a lawyer, my view is going to court is your last option when all else fails.
“But the difficulty we’re getting here is we don’t have any feedback from the university. We’ve asked the question: ‘Is it about money?’ They’ve said, ‘No, no, it has nothing to do with money. The issue is we can’t find a conference.’ Our position is, ‘Well, you can find a conference. We can find you one, we’ve got one.’ Canada West hasn’t committed but they’ve been very clear that they would greatly appreciate an application and they’d look upon it favourably.”
The school’s decision has come under fire because the football team had a place to play this season. What’s more, Simon Fraser fielded a football squad in U Sports, the governing body of university sport in Canada, from 2002 to 2009, posting a 16-47-2 record.
Now, hurdles exist for a return to U Sports as the organization’s bylaws don’t allow members to belong to other conferences. SFU reportedly had a conversation with Canada West officials late last month but an application to join doesn’t appear to have been made.
Less than a week later, the school announced the cancellation of its football program. Simon Fraser moved to the Lone Star Conference in 2022.
Simon Fraser’s varsity teams have been competing against NCAA Division II schools south of the border since 2010-11. While the football program ceased, Johnson said SFU will continue to field teams in 18 NCAA Division II sports.
Simon Fraser’s football team competed within the Division II Great Northwest Atlantic Conference (GNAC) from 2010 to 2021. Before that, it played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) from 1965 until 2001.
Since the school’s decision, there’s been a lot of support for SFU football.
Last week, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie issued a letter to U Sports CEO Pierre Arsenault, Canada West managing director Rocky Olfert and all Canadian university athletic directors and head football coaches petitioning that SFU’s program be allowed to continue in Canada.
On Tuesday, both Football Canada and the CFL Players’ Association followed suit with similar letters condemning the school for its decision and asking the program be reinstated.
“It is beyond devastating that the program ended so abruptly without any outreach or calls for support,” CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay wrote in an email to Johnston. “You, in effect, have ended not just the program but the careers of aspiring athletes to the professional ranks.
“Worse, you allowed spring practices to occur, knowing you had already decided to cancel the program. I am told during those practices; players also suffered severe injuries. There is a huge, untapped groundswell of public support not to have the SFU football program cancelled. The CFLPA is happy to work with you to establish a coalition to find a new conference for the SFU Red Leafs, to salvage the season, and get the athletes back on the field where they can develop their potential and aspire to the professional ranks. You owe your students that much.”
Football Canada president Jim Mullin, in a letter to U Sports schools playing football, asked they find a way to allow Simon Fraser to continue playing in Canada.
“Since 1965, SFU has been one of our country’s innovators in college football,” Mullin said. “Whether it’s playing Canadian or American football, they have contributed significantly to the culture and growth of our sport.
“Unfortunately, the current administration of Simon Fraser is not viewing that contribution through the same lens as Football Canada. Please find a path to welcome Simon Fraser football back to Canadian competition and to the 162-year tradition of Canadian football which was started by and is currently led by Canada’s universities.”
—Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press