Friday, July 10, 2009

NCAA Reaches Across Border

Back in 2008, the NCAA decided it would accept applications for membership from schools outside of the United States.

Crickets were heard chirping, as practically no one jumped at the chance to join.

Finally, the NCAA got a bite.

Simon Fraser University is based in British Columbia, and they have a past history of competing against American schools. Many of their old U.S. rivals are based in a Division II league called the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.

In 2011-2012, SFU will be a part of that league, as they have become the first non-American university approved for NCAA membership.

"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."

Since SFU will be competing in Division II, they will be able to offer limited scholarships in their sports. Their teams -- called the Clan -- compete in 19 varsity sports, including football, basketball, and soccer.

Oddly, they don't have a hockey team. I hate to stereotype, but I figured every Canadian university offered hockey. Then again, British Columbia has a pretty successful junior hockey league (the BCHL), along with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. Perhaps this isn't all that surprising.

It's probably a good thing SFU doesn't offer it. Because of their Division II affiliation, they would be forced into the abyss of NCAA hockey. No longer can schools start programs in Division I when they compete at the Division II level in other sports. It's all or nothing, and asking a newcomer to NCAA sports to make the leap to Division I is probably asking too much.

People have wondered for some time what the impact would be on college hockey if Canadian schools ever tried to join the NCAA. I am guessing it won't be great, since you are now looking at Division I using a "super conference" format that will make further expansion difficult to successfully pull off. A school like the University of Calgary or University of British Columbia might be tempted to join the ranks of NCAA Division I, but the odds of being successful as an independent -- especially in hockey -- are pretty slim.

Anyway, good for the Clan. This is an interesting step being taken by the NCAA, and I'm curious to see if any other Canadian universities try to follow the path now forged by Simon Fraser, even if that path leads to Division II and has no impact on hockey.

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