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North Shore players and alumni flattened by SFU decision to cut football program

The SFU Football Alumni Society has launched a petition aiming to get the program reinstated

The football community across the North Shore was shocked when Simon Fraser University announced the discontinuation of the varsity football program last week, on April 4.

The SFU football program started in 1965 and has a long history of helping athletes develop their skills and advance their careers, including many from the North Shore.

The SFU program is more than a team to many of the players and alumni, according to Jay Prepchuk, a former SFU player who became a pillar of the local football community as the longtime head coach at Handsworth Secondary.

“Even though we graduated years ago, my dearest friends are my teammates from SFU,” Prepchuk said in a letter he sent to SFU’s president last week. “We share special family moments, personal moments and make a point of getting together on a regular basis. This bond with my football brothers is like no other, we are family forever and this includes the hundreds of other football alumni.”

Some of the opportunities the program provides are youth football camps in the summer where young athletes receive world-class coaching, as well as an extraordinarily active alumni association, Prepchuk said.

According to Glen Suitor, a Carson Graham graduate and SFU alumni who went on to play in the CFL and has been an analyst for the CFL on TSN for over 25 years, “There hasn’t been a reason presented from the administration to this point, the excuse they gave was in 2024, there wouldn’t be conference to play in in the NCAA.”

The school was on a two-year contract with the Texas Lone Star Conference and was aware that it was not going to be renewed as more teams from Texas wanted to join. Last week SFU president Joy Johnson released a statement announcing that the school was terminating the program.

“This is a difficult decision, and not one taken lightly,” Johnson said in the April 4 statement. “With the recent announcement that the team has not been invited to continue in the Lone Star Conference, we do not have a conference to play in beginning in 2024. The ongoing uncertainty creates an unacceptable experience for students. The university has carefully considered all available options and as a leadership team we concluded that football is no longer a feasible sport for SFU.”

The SFU football program has sent more students to the CFL than any other school in Canada, said Dylan Roper, a former SFU football player who was drafted to play for the B.C. Lions after his time at school. Roper has been an active SFU football alumni member, and he looks back on his time at SFU fondly, crediting it with shaping him into the person he is today.

Timing puts players in difficult position

Roper has also coached football at Carson Graham Secondary and said he feels for two students who were planning to play at SFU next year. “Both committed to Simon Fraser, both signed scholarships, both were gearing up to go to school to continue on their athletic and academic careers. Really the devastating part about all of this is not really what [SFU] did, but how they did it,” he said.

The timing of the announcement put many players in a difficult situation, said Prepcheck.

“It’s going to be difficult for them to transfer because if you’re in your third year of university and you want to transfer to another university, A) they’re not necessarily going to take all of your credits to transfer, and B) they would only take a limited number of courses to transfer,” he said, adding that many aspiring high school students will feel the impact of this decision too.

“One of the big challenges right now is that at this time of year, in April, most of the recruiting by the universities has already been done. Most universities have finished their recruiting and they’ve allocated all their scholarships,” said Prepchuk, who runs a popular quarterback development camp and is an avid member of the SFU Football Alumni Society.

“One of the things that we’re concerned about is that they didn’t really do anything, the athletic department didn’t do anything, to try to find a new home for this team and these players.” Prepchuk said.

The SFU athletic department was unavailable to provide comment to the North Shore News on what is being done to assist student athletes currently in the program.

It’s not only the athletes who have to deal with this sudden change. According to Prepchuk, most of the coaching staff are now without a job, including defensive co-ordinator Jerome Erdman. “He’s a full-time coach up there, now, he’s out of a job. And it’s going to be very difficult for him and the other coaches to go out and find jobs, especially in the football industry.” he said.

Alumni fighting to save SFU football

Suitor describes the SFU football program as one of the most respected programs in North America, and says that this reputation has attracted coaches and support staff from around the country.

“I think it’s worth fighting for, that’s why we’re doing it as alumni and that’s why there’s been such an overwhelming tidal wave of support from across Canada, not only athletes or former collegiate athletes but sports fans in general,” he said.

Suitor believes that the abrupt announcement was poorly timed, and that options were left unexplored.

“There was no consultation, there was no discussion that the program was in trouble. There was no reaching out to the alumni to see if there was any way that we could assist in finding different conferences to play in,” he said.

The SFU Football Alumni Society has started a petition to allow the alumni to run the team and said they will be pursuing legal action against the school. The organization is confident that they can fully fund the program, and they have no shortage of volunteers of past players that are eager to help out.

“Right now, we have just under 10,000 signatures, and we’re hoping to have a lot more,” Roper said.

Jordan Copp is an intern reporter with the North Shore News. He can be contacted at [email protected].