UBC could finally be joining the NCAA

Joining American league would bring higher quality sports, permit full-ride scholarships.

At many institutions the decision on whether their sports teams would join the NCAA would set the campus buzzing.

At UBC? Students care about as much as they do about the football team—which is to say, there’s athletes who care, friends of athletes, about a hundred sport nuts . . . and that’s about it.

Despite this, the university is beginning what it promises is the final round of consultations to decide whether to join NCAA Division II, or stay in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), of which it is a founding member.

UBC had held prior consultations about joining NCAA in 2008 and 2009, but they were inconclusive. The administration then spent the next year attempting to work with the CIS to change rules around scholarships (UBC would like to offer full-ride ones) and conference tiering (UBC plays too many games against small schools they blow out), to no avail.

Of course, for most schools, the NCAA isn’t appealing. According to UBC officials, only Alberta, McGill and Ryerson have expressed interest—though none of those schools have said so publicly. Simon Fraser joined last year, but they were founded with the intent of competing against American schools, and only joined the CIS in 2000 after too many of their US rivals joined the NCAA, which banned international schools until 2008.

Even if you’re philosophically fine with full-time scholarships for athletes (as a growing number of schools, frustrated with the athletic brain drain, are), the travel costs combined with the scholarships make joining the NCAA prohibitively expensive for universities. But UBC’s athletic department, which has wanted to move to the NCAA for many years, is close enough to the border and has teams in sports that the CIS doesn’t even offer, including baseball and golf. In others like field hockey and swimming, there’s simply not enough competition within Canada. When it comes to the CIS, UBC is a big fish in a comparatively small pond.

That’s not to say it’s a slam dunk for UBC to join. Far from it. In the 2008/09 consultations, 52 per cent of respondents polled in a survey were against moving to the NCAA, despite a concerted attempt by the athletic department to get as many of their athletes as possible to fill out the survey. Though there are no plans for any clear “vote” this time around, UBC will end this final consultation making a decision one way or another—the deadline for application to Division II is June 1st.

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