By: Isabella Urbani, Sports Editor
Nearly four months after SFU unexpectedly announced it was without a conference to play in for the 2023 season, Theresa Hanson, SFU’s athletic director since 2015, agreed to depart from her role at the university. During her time with the school, Hanson oversaw the construction of the SFU stadium at Terry Fox Field, the university’s Nike partnership, as well as the renaming of the athletic program to the Red Leafs, after student activists fought to have the name “Clan” removed due to its racial connotations.
When SFU first announced its football team would not be returning to the Lone Star Conference, which they previously played in the year prior, there was no indication the announcement also marked the end of the 57-year-old varsity program. Instead, just a month later, SFU promoted two SFU football staff members to the offence and special teams coordinators. The latter role would be responsible for, among other positions, the kickers who kick field goals, punters who kick the ball to the opposition, and receivers who retrieve the punter’s kicks.
When SFU finally announced the termination of the football program in April, they were met with an outcry from players, alongside alumni and local media, who took the school to court to prolong their decision to axe the program. Although unsuccessful, SFU decided to appoint an independent special advisor, Bob Copeland, to decide whether or not football, at any level, was feasible at SFU. In his interim recommendation, Copeland said due to “safety and logistical concerns,” SFU could not play “competitive exhibition games in 2023,” completely eliminating any chances of football being played at SFU this fall. A final report will be issued by Copeland later this month.
The extended timeline
February 1, 2023: SFU announces the Lone Star Conference has not renewed its contract with the school’s football program, leaving them without a conference to play in. In the announcement, SFU says they will “continue to review the situation and explore options,” but don’t explicitly mention the termination of the program.
February 12, 2023: SFU announces it will be hosting the Lift-A-Thon from February 12–18. The event will raise money for the football program by having athletes participate in a series of lifting events. SFU includes a link to donate to this fund on their website. The Peak was unable to confirm how much money was raised.
March 10, 2023: SFU promotes Eric Taylor to offensive coordinator and Samuel Richard to special teams coordinator.
April 4, 2023: SFU president Joy Johnson announces the end of the football program. Johnson cites the inability to find a conference to play in as the reason behind the decision. Throughout the process, SFU says this decision is not motivated by finances and is instead “very complex.” The owner of the BC Lions, Amar Doman, steps up and says he is willing to cover expenses if this is the reason behind the program’s closure. However, he says it has been tricky to “get a response from SFU that is anything other than political.”
April 13, 2023: Five SFU football players file an injunction to try and prohibit the school from cancelling the program. The injunction is filed on the basis that SFU “breached its contract” by failing to ensure that athletes can “play football and get a great education.”
April 21, 2023: SFU plans to appoint a special advisor to see if there is any capacity for football to be played at SFU.
April 26, 2023: Football alumni inducted into the SFU Hall of Fame request their honour be revoked to stand in solidarity with the impacted football athletes.
May 11, 2023: The BC Supreme Court denies the April 13 injunction. SFU announces Bob Copeland as special advisor. TSN sports broadcaster and SFU alum, Farhan Lalji, says part of the reason the players filed the injunction was to pressure SFU to follow through on their promise of appointing a special advisor. At the same time, SFU releases a video of Joy Johnson discussing the verdict and referring to SFU as having “no place to play in NCAA football,” when she had previously stated that SFU had no place to play at all. The video has since been deleted. President of the SFU Football Alumni Society, Mark Bailey, says alumni have crafted a schedule they believe is achievable for the fall season.
June 13, 2023: Copeland’s interim report dubs the competitive exhibition games proposed by the Football Alumni Society as unsuitable due to travel costs as well as academic, and health demands for staff and students.
June 28, 2023: A freedom of information request reveals that SFU believed the football program was going to be cancelled since January. However, in court, Hanson said the decision to cancel the program didn’t come until late March.
This is an ongoing story. The Peak will continue to cover as more updates become available.