Structuring CIS for Long-Term Growth: Step Two: Expansion for Stability

Tobi WritesAnalyst ISeptember 21, 2009

As I stated in the initial call to action article in this series on Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS—Canada's version of NCAA Division I) the seemingly imminent loss of Simon Fraser University to the NCAA's Division II has created a desire at many CIS member institiutions to reform the rules governing CIS.

This is the second in a followup series of articles discussing positive changes that could be implemented to improve the financial bottom line at CIS member universities across Canada.

Back in May, I developed a plan designed to stabilize the CIS and put it in a situation where the improvement of each member school's financial bottom line would be much more likely.  I call this plan the "10-year football fund."

"Yuck, why football?"

Quite simply, football is the sport that has the most potential to generate revenue for CIS schools.  If you look at per game attendance, football generally draws between 2000 and 8000 fans per game in CIS (there are, of course, exceptions in both directions).  Other CIS sports rarely break the 1000 mark at any game.

Football in Canada is the sport that has the greatest history of attracting large crowds.   Hockey, for all its great support, doesn't draw 60,000 for its championship game or have teams drawing 35,000 to see any of their pro teams each week.

Certainly one can quite validly suggest that the smaller arenas prevent those numbers.  I am certainly willing to concede that, but it doesn't change the fact.  Canadians understand on a primal level that football CAN bring in large crowds—even in Canada.

Additionally, CIS college football has one thing going for it that CIS hockey would not—a lack of real competition for the public's entertainment dollars.  CIS hockey would have to compete against a well-established and (comparatively) well-funded and supported network of minor league teams.

The Canadian Football League only exists in eight cities.  That means there are only eight what I have named "Killzones" for football in Canada.  A CFL Killzone is a metro area/region where the CFL dominates the dollars the public is willing to spend on football.

There are plenty of cities like Halifax, London, Kingston, Waterloo, Quebec City, and more where there is no CFL smothering the growth in popularity of CIS football.

CIS problem areas

There are 27 CIS football teams today including SFU.  They play an eight-game regular schedule and are divided into four regional "conferences":

The most glaring trouble spots are the coasts, the AUS, and the CWUAA.

Having four teams makes the AUS schools play head-to-head vs. their conference foes and STILL have to take two expensive trips to play OOC foes. That is slowing the development of football out there and unnecessarily costing money to those universities.

The loss of SFU drops the membership of the CWUAA to six, which could be taken as a manageable loss, but it also effectively increases the travel budget of CIS schools in British Columbia and Alberta and increases the chances the CIS will also lose the University of British Columbia, which would most definitely be a bad turn of events.

Proposal: The 10-year football fund

CIS would profit immensely by having each of the 52 CIS members contribute $40,000 into a fund each year for 10 years or so. That amounts to $2.08 million a year. That money could be given to one of the 25 non-playing CIS member schools to start a football program.

(I have seen multiple articles suggesting it costs about $2 million to start up a non-scholarship university football program when a stadium is present. That number is possibly out of date.  Whether the number is now, say $3 million, is not particularly relevant, as that would only amount to minor shifting in what breaks down to be small amounts contributed by each school.)

Programs would be selected to ease CIS football teams' travel, making all CIS schools more profitable.

This proposal turns a huge blind eye to the fact I don't have any idea which universities' leadership have a blind, unreasonable hatred of football.

Perspective on the cost

There are many ways this could be funded.

1) Have every football playing CIS school contribute $40,000.  This is what a school might pay a couple of gardners or how much they might spend on a couple of scholarships.

If passed on to the student body, this would cost students at member university from 50 cents to $15 per year depending on the enrollment at the CIS member school.

2) Have every football playing CIS school charge their student an equal fee.  The math works out to each student paying less than $2.50 each per year.

The costs are beyond minimal.


1) Université de Moncton

The Université de Moncton is the obvious first choice. Moncton is the largest French-speaking school on the Maritimes. That would make it more tolerable for the Quebec schools to buy in, as it would be clear French-speaking Canadians would be treated as equal members and would make the program an easier sell to the French-speaking part of Canada. It sends the message that this program is for all Canadians.

In Moncton/university terms, New Moncton stadium will have permanent seating for about 10,000; Moncton has over 120,000 people, a solid-sized university, and has been clamouring for a CFL team. They probably feel a need to prove they can support football, which considering enrollment and city size, they should be able to.

On the (slightly) negative side, it is very close to Sackville—about a half hour drive. As most CIS teams draw 2-3,000 per game today, even that could be a big positive, potentially giving Sackville an annual 6,000 standing-room-only rivalry game each year.

IN AUS terms, adding Memorial University would cost a lot in travel (compared to Moncton). Adding Dalhousie University would create two trips to Halifax for each Atlantic team—really not growing the market. 

In addition, more New Brunswick representation is called for than just a single team. The University of New Brunswick is a good sized candidate, but doesn't have a stadium and is too distant for the immediate goal of cutting costs. UNBSJ has a workable stadium and a metro area comparable to Moncton, but is not a CIS member.

Moncton makes the most sense.

With Moncton, AUS would have five football-playing members and would be able to play a home and home series (2 games total) with each member to make up their eight games. It would cut travel costs immensely and allow Atlantic teams to funnel the savings into promoting their programs to drive up fan support.

(Let's say each school saves enough to hire someone to go out into the community and gives away an occasional free ticket to businesses or to sell the local community on the games. It can add up.)

Saving British Columbia

SFU and UBC have been making a lot of noise about the NCAA, with SFU recently moving to Division II. In my opinion, feeling isolated and paying large travel costs are as much or more of the issue than the oft quoted competition arguement.

Expansion of the CWUAA in BC to add teams in the other sports would help a lot, but rivalries cement affiliation and they won't happen in sports that pull a couple hundred fans in. Thriving football rivalries can make an NCAA move in any sport totally unpalatable to SFU and UBC's fans and alumni.

I would gather the funds for three years and then sponsor three teams.

2) University of Victoria, 3) University of the Fraser Valley, and 4) Thompson Rivers University

All three have access to acceptable CIS-level stadiums: Victoria's 5,000-seat Centennial Stadium, the City of Abbotsford's 4,000-seat Rotary Stadium, and TRU's 2,000-seat Hillside Stadium.

All three schools have fairly large enrollments and have good sized communities without CFL competition.

SFU could be fast tracked to readmittance if they choose. I think they would. If not, I think it is in the country's best interest to have the government push SFU to rejoin.

The 3 upgrading schools would join with SFU and UBC in forming a new football conference. That would create a five-team "conference" mirroring AUS.  Let's call it the "British Columbia Athletics Association".

It would offer SFU and UBC nearby competition, an eight-game home and home in-conference schedule that should help build up attendance numbers and firmly establish TRU, Victoria, and UFV as hated rivals. It would create much more excitement throughout British Columbia each season.  It could jump start the football culture in British Columbia, like Laval has in Quebec.

Additionally, SFU and UBC should be able to establish themselves as powers with their more established programs, which should again help keep them in the CIS fold.

Ripple Effects

Additionally the removal of UBC and SFU from the CWUAA cut travel costs at the Plains schools. Regina, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan have big travel costs cuts. With five members, the conference could also play home-and-home series for their eight games.

To mirror the cost savings moves in other conferences, the 10 member Ontario University Athletics could split into a North Ontario University Athletics and a South Ontario University Athletics for football.  This would allow 5 team in each "conference" as well.

This would tidy up the playoff race and make the criteria to qualify a lot more fair to teams in all regions.  I would have the BCAA, CWUAA, and the SOAU in a western playoff bracket and the NOAU, QSSF, and AUS in an eastern playoff bracket.

This would be a very stable configuration for CIS football with 31 teams.

Additional games

At this point it might make sense for the CIS to consider playing more games in future seasons.  While on one hand having 5 teams in most of the goups works well for saving money, some schools, especially in the divided OAU, would likely want at least one more game added to preserve rivalries.

Currently, CIS teams play eight regular season games in a 10-week season. Frankly, it seems likely that that hurts football-playing students more than it helps them. They are in college to learn and to pursue dreams of playing professional football.

Playing every week of the 10-week schedule or 9 of the 10 weeks would allow them more games each year to impress pro scouts and improve their play. School is about preparing students for the workforce in the fields they have chosen. Football, for a lot of them, is their chosen field.

Playing 10 games would allow schools like SFU, UBC, Regina, and others to play out-of-conference rivals if they chose, and would allow a six-member conference like QSSF to consider a home-and-home setup for in-conference play for a year or two—if they want.

Adding two more games drops the Atlantic schools back into a trouble area, so I think adding a sixth member is a priority.

Further exapansion


The University of New Brunswick is an option, but I think the University of Price Edward Island makes more sense as it gives you two teams in NB, three teams in NS, and a team in PEI.

Additionally, the stadiums are close enough that travel is very cheap for teams and fans. UPEI Turf Field is a 3,000-seat soccer field that could be converted to handle football as well.

The Prairies did get some benefit in a travel cost reduction, but they are due to have a university come up.

6) University of Lethbridge

U of Lethbridge hits me as a school that could leverage this into a means for visible university growth. They have a soccer field with tons of parking that could host football. They are in a football-crazy region with no in-city CFL competition. They would also be a sixth school, allowing home-and-home in-conference play (if desired).

Ontario would be next, so schools in the province did not feel cheated.

The candidates are harder to find in Ontario. Ryerson does not appear to have a good stadium nearby. Maybe they could play at U ot T's stadium, but that would be very tough to work out. Brock would be a good idea, but they are in southern Ontario—a heavily served area—and can wait a bit longer.

They have a soccer field that appears made for football, but their parking is a good bit away. Still, if they got behind it, there are places on campus that are unfinished and might support a small stadium near a parking lot. UOIT has a soccer field that could become a dual-purpose CIS home if bleachers were added.

7) Carleton University

Carleton is, of course, the most logical choice, but it does pose the question of giving $2 million to a school that mothballed programs and probably already has some of the factilites needed to play (Lansdowne awaits).

Additionally, would Carleton bite? Fans, students, and citizens might want to, but would the administration? I think they might, if someone was handing them $2 million for startup and the entire country was moving towards football.


This allows for a Northern Ontario Conference (Carleton, Ottawa, Queens, UOIT, Toronto, and York) and a Southern Ontaio Conference (Guelph, McMaster, Waterloo, Western, Laurier, and Windsor).

9) Vancouver Island University

VIU would provide an on island rival for UVic and is only a short Ferry ride from Vancouver. There are fields available that could be upgraded for 2000 spectators fairly easily.

The next area served should be Quebec.

10) UQTR or UQAM

UQTR plays soccer, but does not appear to play football. They could turn into quite a rival for Laval and Sherbrooke and could really help the university grow in enrollment. They have a nice on-campus soccer field that could handle football short-term if bleachers were added; long-term if proper grandstands were brought in.

Hopefully by this point UQAM will have their finances square. They could play at Claude-Robillard's football/soccer field.

That would be 10 years.

They would again be at a stable membership with 37 teams.

At that point they could take a few years break and maybe try it again in five years or so.  Perhaps upgrading schools like:

and others.

This plan may seem optimistic to many, but the costs are truly miniscule and the cost savings and future earnings could be quite pronounced. 


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