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Richmond football community stunned by SFU decision

Sports wall of famer Bruce Haddow and Richmod minor football president both bewildered by call to axe varsity program
JR Bantam (8)
Richmond Raiders run the minor football program in the city

The Richmond football community has reacted with bewilderment at Simon Fraser University’s shock decision to axe the sport’s varsity program.

SFU announced on Tuesday that its renowned football program – which has produced a conveyer belt of talent for the CFL - would end immediately.

The university cited the fact that a number of football programs have been discontinued in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) and within the NCAA Division II in which it played.

SFU joined the Lone Star Conference in southwestern U.S. in 2021 for a two-year affiliate agreement, but in January of this year that conference voted to not renew its deal with the Burnaby-based university, leaving SFU without a place to play.

However, a former Richmond high school football coach and the president of the city’s minor football club, the Richmond Raiders, don’t believe the university when it claims to have looked at all options to keep its football program alive.

Haddow stunned by SFU decision

“I heard the news and thought, ‘what?’ They’re well into their training by now, that’s very late for sure to announce something like this,” said Bruce Haddow, who was inducted into the Richmond Sports Hall of Fame last year along with fellow coaching legend, and brother, Bill.

“It will be very difficult for (the players) to transfer now, as schools across the country will already be well into their own training.

“But the alumni is very strong at SFU and I know they won’t take this well. It does seem very heartless, very cut and dried.

“And it doesn’t seem as if (SFU) even asked to get back into Canada West, where UBC play.”

Haddow pointed out that top football players have been pouring out of SFU for “close to 60 years” and “for five straight years the number one pick in the CFL draft came out of SFU.

“In the 70s, 80s and 90s, SFU was a football factory, no question, it churned out so many top players.”

Haddow doesn’t think the decision will have an immediate impact at grassroots football, but admitted it’s “going to be interesting to see what happens.”

“There’s going to be a lot less opportunity for kids to play in B.C. and there’s going to be a lot more competition for places at the likes of UBC,” he added.

Richmond Raiders president questions SFU call

Meanwhile, Aarron Thompson, Richmond Raiders president, told the Richmond News that he was pretty much “blind-sided” by SFU’s call.

“I really don’t think they’ve looked into all the alternatives, even looking at (Canada West), rather than the NCAA…even though it’s not in the limelight they’re accustomed to,” he said.

“It just looks like they didn’t look at it all before shutting it down. It’s a step backward in a lot of respects for the sport.”

Thompson said many minor football players, including many at the Raiders locally, would look to graduate into junior football, then into the likes of those sought-after programs (at SFU).

“SFU is the pinnacle of where you can go from a football sense in the region, so this isn’t great,” said Thompson, adding that decisions such as the one from SFU “often trickles down to budget.”

That being said, the Raiders, noted Thompson, has enjoyed a 40 per cent uptick in growth over the last few years.

But asked about the impacts of the SFU decision at the lower levels of the sport, he acknowledged that there could be a little blowback.

“I can see some parents thinking, ‘well, if SFU aren’t doing it, what’s the point of putting our kids in the program’,” said Thompson.

“We saw the same thing when the concussion movie came out with Will Smith, but there was a re-build after a couple of years.

“I don’t think it will falter the sport too much. Our governing body has been doing a great job getting national championships here.

“I think this is likely just a speed bump for the sport locally.”

SFU said it made the decision just now to “give students time to make other plans for their athletic careers if they so choose.

“All students impacted are being supported with one-on-one guidance regarding next steps. We will support football athletes who want to explore options outside of SFU, and will honour athletic scholarship commitments for those who choose to remain at SFU and meet eligibility requirements for the 2023-24 school year.”

SFU is Canada’s only NCAA team, with the university now down to 18 sports competing in the NCAA Division II.