SFU vs. UBC: the decades-old rivalry lives on today


An ongoing, light-hearted feud between my grandfather and I is whose alma mater is better. When I bought him an SFU T-shirt for Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised he didn’t burn it. I was also surprised that when I asked him where this rivalry came from, he wasn’t able to tell me.

Despite not knowing why he scoffs at SFU, after a short conversation, it’s evident that he does and probably always will. “I was 35 when I started second year at UBC and being much older than my fellow students, there wasn’t much of a bond. I don’t remember attending any sporting events between the two [universities],” which, for many, is the most obvious instance of rivalry in the past.

“I did attend a football game once at Thunderbird Field, not against SFU, and there were a few moms, dads, and girlfriends, and that was it. Simon Fraser was not very old at that time [1973], and was thought of as ‘that little college on the hill’. Perhaps a rivalry existed, but nothing that I saw. My main rivalry with SFU started a couple of years ago, when I learned that a blood relative was attending.” I’d like to note that he’s talking about me. . . as I’m interviewing him.

“I am beginning to recover, but it has been a long process. I believe that SFU has come a long way and is now likely to be the second-best university in the province.” Even after admitting he did not get caught up in the rivalry during his time at UBC, he still insisted on making fun of SFU over four decades later. So why does this rivalry exist? And how has it changed in the past fifty years?

A peek back in time

Back in 2015, a former sports editor for The Peak, Austin Cozicar, wrote a feature in The Tartan magazine — a brief side project of The Peak’s — about the history of the Shrum Bowl. For those unfamiliar with it, the Shrum Bowl was an annual football contest between UBC and SFU that started around SFU’s second anniversary.

Founded by SFU’s first chancellor, and former UBC professor, Gordon Shrum, the Shrum Bowl was famous for its antics: a topless woman on horseback, a fight broken up by police, and fans stealing the goalposts during the final quarter, to name a few.

The Shrum Bowl was the beginning of the SFU vs. UBC rivalry. Despite SFU’s age and size, the university was able to win the first five Shrum Bowls. Cozicar believes there was more to this rivalry than just football.

“One big thing between [the two institutions], at least from an athletic standpoint, [is that SFU] decided to go the ‘American way.’ [SFU athletics] went to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) which is sort of like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), but not as cool,” Cozicar added.

“UBC was old school Canadian football.” And as far as Cozicar is concerned, this was a rupture of sorts in the athletic rivalry between both schools. “The main reason SFU [entered the NAIA] was because they offered scholarships.” While universities in most, if not all, leagues today can offer scholarships, this was a big deal back then. “I think SFU rubbed a lot of them the wrong way by doing that,” said Cozicar.  

Chris Connolly, who graduated from SFU in 1996 and completed a one-year bachelor of education at UBC in 2001, said there was very little rivalry at the time. “Having the perspective of attending both universities, it is apparent that SFU students care more about what is happening at UBC than UBC students care about SFU,” Connolly stated, adding that many no longer cared about the Shrum Bowl by this point.

Deborah Preddy, an SFU alumna who completed a BA and PDP between 19921998, also thought this once-great sports rivalry had lost a lot of its fire. Most of the rivalry Preddy saw during her time at SFU was more conversation based. “Overall it was more good-natured rooting for your home team kind of discussions,” she said.

What’s left of the rivalry?

Our once-great rivalry now seems to have stagnated. Most current students, both at UBC and SFU, don’t even know the famous hijinks of the Shrum Bowl. It makes sense; ever since SFU switched to the NCAA, it has been next to impossible to schedule games, which is why there hasn’t been a Shrum Bowl since 2010.

Even administration has shied away from the rivalry in recent years; a much different attitude than they in held in the 1960s. All of this begs the question: is there still a rivalry between SFU and UBC? “Definitely,” said Soraya Bellou, a third-year UBC biology major.

While Bellou was unclear on the rivalry’s origins, she said she’s always been aware of it. She believes that what remains of the rivalry is rooted in the past, but has taken on new aspects in recent years.

In my opinion . . . the rivalry stems from the [idea] that UBC has a higher reputation internationally and is . . . viewed as [a] more prestigious institution than SFU. [. . .] There’s [also] a resentment towards SFU campus[es] for having more flexible course schedules than UBC.”

Fourth-year BPK and chemistry student, Anupama Rangi, seems to agree. Having the unique perspective of being an SFU student who works at UBC as a residence front desk service representative, Rangi has seen both sides of the rivalry.

When asked if students from either university treat her differently when they find out her situation, Rangi said they mostly just ask why she would transit to get from work to school or vice versa. “If there are any judgements, it’s never been said to my face.”

While admitting there is still a heavy comparison between the two schools, Rangi seems hesitant to call it a rivalry. “I think the general opinion is that UBC is the better university, because of higher admission requirements [faculty specific], a bigger campus, a more widespread reputation, and more people. This comparison is rather inbred — I listened to my parents telling me that UBC was better, I listened to other people’s parents telling me that UBC is better. [. . .] I think it’s less of a ‘rivalry’ now, and more so of a comparison that doesn’t need to be made anymore.”

Cozicar, now the host of CJSF’s Sports Report (Thursdays at 9:00 a.m.), also weighed in on the changes to the SFU vs. UBC rivalry. “From what I gather, back in the sixties there was a lot of perception of snobbery from UBC, which I think we still kind of believe nowadays.”

Touching on what is the most notable form of modern rivalry between the two schools, Cozicar referred to the common ‘Oh, I got rejected from UBC so I went to SFU’ myth that has been perpetuated for years. “It’s actually a matter of pride [for me. . .] I didn’t even try to go to UBC. Only place I tried to go was SFU.”

The nature of our sports rivalry has also dramatically changed. With no Shrum Bowl, where do we see the competition between the two? “I think it’s hard to say there’s one athletically,” said Cozicar. However, Cozicar mentioned there are still soccer games between the two schools, but they don’t bring the same spirit that the Shrum Bowl did.

Picking between the two

Even alumni see how the nature of the rivalry has changed. Connolly, now a teacher at Thomas Haney Secondary, oftentimes has to help grade 12 students pick between several universities. “I think the rivalry is now with smaller institutions such as University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Trinity Western, and places in the interior. There are more university colleges out there trying to create a name so that they may draw students,” he said, while acknowledging the still existing tensions between SFU and UBC.

“For Thomas Haney students, distance is the factor. SFU is within bus/driving distance, while UBC is just a little out of reach. UBC does have a sort of prestige about it, probably because of that.

“Much of the rivalry, interestingly, centres around the business schools and the education programs. SFU spends a lot of time making a fuss over the PDP program, when really, in my experience, both programs are comparable. In some ways, I do prefer the practicum offerings of UBC as it is a little more ‘hands off.’”

So how should students decide which university is right for them amidst comparison and rivalry? “I recommend students to attend both universities,” said Connolly, adding “if money was not an object, I would give UBC the edge. The campus is beautiful, and there are more networking opportunities due to its size. I also recommend both institutions over smaller colleges if the student is comfortable navigating a larger community.

“No matter where students go, they should stay away from the marketing, and visit each campus and ask themselves, ‘Would I like to spend four years of my youth here along with my hard earned money/loans?’”

Rangi has similar sentiments. “What people should consider when choosing a university at least, what I thought of when choosing where I wanted to go is ultimately what you want to study, what opportunities do you see yourself having, and of course, practical things like tuition feasibility and distance from home. UBC and SFU are both highly-ranked universities with opportunities for success wherever you go.

“What matters in the long run, is what you do and what you experience. If you do nothing to enhance your degree and up your experience, then it doesn’t really matter if you go to UBC or SFU.”

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