Football’s footprints: the carbon cost of playing in the NCAA

Did SFU consider the carbon cost of being the only Canadian NCAA university?

Photo credit / Montreal Alouettes

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Editor-in-Chief

SFU Athletics’ new branding makes it loud and clear: SFU is the one and only Canadian university in the NCAA. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the university’s jump into this brave new athletic world, which has sent Clan players to compete against opponents in far off locations such as Hawaii or Texas. 

While the expenses of playing in the NCAA amongst American rivals are well-known, all this travelling also implies a sizeable carbon footprint. Using two online carbon footprint calculators and armed with two football schedules — one being ours and the other being UBC’s — The Peak tried to pinpoint the difference in the carbon footprints of our athletics programs.  

Game Opponent  Game location  Flight emissions for 1 round trip (in tonnes of CO2)  Emissions for 1 coach bus,round trip (in tonnes of CO2) 
August 31 University of Regina Rams Home
September 6  University of Saskatchewan Huskies Saskatoon, SK  0.38   0.14 
September 14 University of Calgary Dinos Home
September 21 University of Manitoba Bisons Winnipeg, MB 0.60  0.20 
September 28  University of Alberta Golden Bears Home
October 4 University of Regina Rams Regina, SK 0.43 0.16 
October 19  University of Saskatchewan Huskies Home
October 26 University of Calgary Dinos Calgary, AB 0.22  0.08 
Total  1.63  0.29 


2019 SFU Clan football schedule

Game Opponent  Game location  Flight emissions for 1 person’s round trip (in tonnes of CO2)  Emissions for 1 coach bus, round trip (in tonnes of CO2) 
September 7 Portland State University Vikings  Portland, OR 1.05  0.02 
September 14  Angelo State University Rams  San Angelo, TX 0.88 0.18 
September 21 South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Hardrockers Home
September 28 Azusa Pacific University Cougars  Home
October 12 Dixie State University Trailblazers  St. George, UT  1.05  0.12 
October 19  Azusa Pacific State University Cougars Glendora, CA 0.58  0.04 
October 26  Central Washington University Wildcats Ellensburg, WA 1.24  0.02 
November 2 Western Oregon University Wolves Home
November 16  Central Washington University Wildcats   Home
Total  3.99 0.38  


Whether a team is travelling by bus or by plane, it’s clear that a Canadian university participating in the NCAA is significantly more carbon-intensive than a counterpart playing in, for example, U Sports

Based on these findings, SFU’s continued efforts to position itself as a leader in sustainability don’t square with its commitment to expanding its athletic footprint into the NCAA. Did SFU consider the carbon cost of NCAA participation when it started its drive to be the only Canadian university in the league?