Full-ride athletic scholarships still on hold

In the face of constantly losing athletes to American schools, CIS continues to spin its wheels on scholarship reform

The other day, I looked at how Canadian universities are just starting to come to grips that some of their student-athletes just may be taking performance-enhancing drugs. Today, I’ll look at another issue which Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) has been unable to come to a consensus on: Athletic scholarships.

Should Canadian universities be able to give full ride scholarships to student-athletes? It’s a lightning rod question—at least by the standards of post-secondary education—because currently, athletic scholarships can only cover tuition and associated fees. Not room, not board, nothing else. You also have to keep up a 65% average (70% if you’re in Ontario).

Needless to say, the incentive for top athletes to stay in Canada aren’t exactly stunning. To take but one example: There are 99 players on the men’s and women’s national soccer teams. Fourteen went to university in Canada.

Last summer, Simon Fraser University decided to join the NCAA last summer, allowing the school to offer full-ride scholarships (though due to their limited athletic budget, the number they will give out is expected to be quite small. The University of British Columbia is still considering moving to the NCAA in order to attract the best athletes possible.

Given all of that, the CIS last year announced a task force to look at enhancing athletic scholarships. The model that was decided after internal consultations was a “salary cap” system, in which a total financial cap would remain in place at universities, but the individual limit would be waived. In theory, this would allow schools to spend more money on one or two local high-school athletes to keep them from  bolting to an American college. CIS President Clint Hamilton has championed the proposal throughout the year.

And, after a year of debate and deliberation of the model, the CIS has decided…nothing.

The organization’s AGM is next week, and while the issue of scholarships will be debated, there’s no motion on the table to change the status quo. According to the report prepared for delegates:

Although the Flexible Model that was proposed…received some support …it did not garner significant support in its current format: (too conservative, too progressive, too complicated, more research is needed, more progress on compliance is required, tip of the iceberg and before long the cap will be raised, some ADs stated that the decision for policy reform must be made at the Presidential level etc.)

Well then. That’s certainly a lot of miscellaneous reasons. On the other hand, Hamilton said in his report that “the reality is that people do know we fall short of  the NCAA Division 1 standard of athletic scholarship,” and “current policy continues to divide and polarize our organization.” So what’s going on here?

The reality is that while a few larger schools (notably many in Western Canada) would like to increase scholarships, other schools are either firmly for the status quo—smaller schools, who don’t have the financial resources. Then there are other universities that are unsure what is the best method of giving greater opportunities for student-athletes without diverting  money from slightly more important matters than who can put a ball in a net best.

Regardless of where you stand, this is another case of the CIS spinning its wheels on an issue, unable to decisively move one way or the other. We don’t need (and can’t afford) a NCAA-style league, but it’s not unrealistic to hope that a stadium with a couple thousand students cheering on their school can be the rule, not the exception in this country.

That requires national leadership though. And when you look at how the CIS is unable to move in any real direction on drugs and scholarships, it doesn’t inspire much confidence.