SFU Red Leafs release special report on football team, but no deadline to decide future of program

Special adviser Bob Copeland writes athletic department ‘is in a precarious financial situation and has been plagued by a structural budget deficit.’

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An independent adviser’s report on the options for a sustainable future for SFU Red Leafs football was released on Monday, but a school spokesperson says that there is currently no timeline for a decision on whether the team will be resurrected.

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SFU did put out a five-paragraph statement on the 136-page report it commissioned from Bob Copeland, the senior vice-president of McLaren Global Sports Solutions.

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“The university acknowledges that a key finding of the report is that we must develop a strategic plan for Athletics and Recreation that will guide decision-making as we strengthen supports for varsity programs,” the statement concluded. “Some of the recommended changes are already underway, but it will take time to thoughtfully review the report and determine next steps as its suggestions impact the entire program, which includes 16 varsity teams and nearly 300 student-athletes.”

SFU president Joy Johnson was quoted as saying: “I recognize that the findings of this report may not be what the football community had hoped for, but Mr. Copeland has made clear that our starting point now must be setting the right foundation for Athletics and Recreation.”

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And Rummana Khan Hemani, who is SFU vice-provost, students and International, further added to the idea that a decision on the football team isn’t coming soon by saying in Monday’s statement: “The report is based on more than 240 interviews that shed light on areas that require a deeper look. As we work through these findings with our student-athletes, coaches and staff, we will keep the community updated.” 

SFU shut down the football team on April 4, citing the fact that it was losing its membership in the Texas-based Lone Star Conference after the 2023 season and that there was a dwindling number of NCAA Div. II teams on the West Coast. The SFU program dates back to 1965, and it’s produced several CFL stars.

There was a backlash with the initial announcement. SFU announced on April 21 that it was bringing an adviser “to review and make recommendations” on possible roads forward for the football team, and then announced on May 11 that it was Copeland and that he was would have a report by September.

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Among Copeland’s findings is that “there is not a clear, unencumbered path for the reinstatement of SFU football.” As well, he also wrote that prior to football’s cancellation there was a structural budget deficit in the athletic department “as high as $1.77 million that had been growing over the past several years.” He said one staff member told him that the athletic department “cannot make strategic decisions at this time. We are handcuffed by the budget.”

Copeland listed the 2022 football budget at $1.056 million.

He wrote that the athletic department “is in a precarious financial situation and has been plagued by a structural budget deficit for several years. This is a critical factor that must be taken into consideration as it relates to the resumption of football. Enhanced fundraising from external sources, including donations, sponsorship and special events will be required to position SFU football for success and sustainability.”

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SFU started out playing in the American, small-college NAIA. It moved the majority of its programs to the U Sports and the Canada West Conference in 2002, and then shifted its teams again to NCAA Div. II in 2010. The football program has struggled since moving back to the U.S., including going 4-62 over its past seven years.

Football alumni felt they didn’t have enough consultation with then-athletic director Theresa Hanson before the decision to shut down the program and they were also angry when it came out that Hanson hadn’t made a formal application for football to receive a one-team exemption and move back to Canada West. Hanson had said that SFU wanted to keep its other programs in the NCAA.

Copeland’s report lists the application fee to get into Canada West as $313,000 and the fees to get into the national U Sports body as $55,000.

SFU is also looking for a new athletic director. Hanson, who had been in the post since 2015, and the school agreed to part ways on Aug. 2.

SFU’s home opener this season was slated to be Sept. 2, against Linfield University. They were scheduled to play the Shrum Bowl exhibition match-up against the UBC Thunderbirds on Dec. 1, likely at B.C. Place thanks to backing from the B.C. Lions, who were set to sponsor the game.


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