Decision Day for NCAA

After two years of delay, it’s finally going to happen. UBC will actually making a decision, one way or the other, on membership in NCAA Division II. President Toope has requested all feedback from the latest round of NCAA consultations gathered up and delivered to him today so that everything can be considered by himself and the rest of the executive, and a decision has been promised before month’s end.

Although frustrating, deferring the decision was the right choice. I was a member of the original Division II review committee in 2008 and by the time we finished with that review, it was clear that we were only able to scratch the surface of the factors involved. At the time, the number of hypotheticals involved made it difficult for anyone to say that they truly had a grasp on all of the issues involved or could accurately forsee what effects joining the NCAA would have on UBC. The administration’s choice to give everything a second look was well-advised rather than opening the door to endless second guessing. Most importantly, it put the administration in a position where they can be far more confident in their assessment of the situation, and will be better able to justify and communicate the reasons behind whatever decision is ultimately taken.

However, I don’t believe the second look makes the decision any less polarizing to those who are invested in the debate. As I wrote the first time around, the decision is still one where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s simply that in the past two years, most people have lost interest, and the number of people pulling in either direction has shrunk substantially. As Theresa Hanson, who heads up the Varsity Program at UBC often put it, the “mushy middle” of those who don’t have strong feelings either way is all but a handful of people in this case. If that’s you, you’ve probably stopped reading this by now anyway so I’ll get to the point.

Just as in 2008, I don’t think UBC should join the NCAA. I’m certainly not vehemently opposed to it as I once was, but the reasoning remains the same. Simply put, there are advantages as well as risks associated with NCAA membership. The advantages will only benefit the small minority of students in the varsity program. Meanwhile, the risks are assumed by the entire UBC community. On the whole, I don’t believe UBC will be better off as a member of the NCAA.

I concur with some of the advantages for student athletes that UBC Athletics has said will result from joining the NCAA. More sports can compete, and there will be more competition opportunities for some of the sports that are not considered big-ticket attractions. Athletes will be eligible for more funding and they will be able to better recruit top athletes. However, other purported advantages are speculative at best and even if they were to occur, are unlikely to have any significant impact.

As for the risks, the AMS has written and endorsed a position paper outlining a number of them. The summary is as follows:

Protection of Intramural Funds

Out of every dollar of student fees UBC Athletics receives, about 75% goes to the varsity program, while only 25% goes to recreation. This distribution of funds is at the sole discretion of UBC Athletics and there is no mechanism to ensure that adequate investment in student recreation will be maintained should costs increase for the varsity program.

Academic Integrity

UBC currently has a very high graduation rate of varsity athletes and should UBC join the NCAA, precautions should be taken to ensure that continues.

Place and Promise

NCAA membership requires seeking US accreditation for UBC’s degree programs. This can be a lengthy and time-intensive process, especially for administrators. The time and effort spent on the accreditation process is likely better spent focusing on the initiatives of Place and Promise.


UBC Athletics has a goal to raise $75 million for athletics scholarships. Wouldn’t that effort be better spent raising money for other things like a new aquatic centre which would benefit everybody?

Review of Varsity Sports

UBC Athletics needs to do a thorough and fair review of the sports they offer at the Varsity level. They should also be open to new applicants (wrestling, tennis) and evaluate them the same way they do their existing sports.

Advisory Committee Membership

An advisory committee has been proposed. The membership is too large and the presence and usefulness of some of the members is questionable.

Additional Questions

1. Given that UBC is historically more of an academic institution, is it appropriate to offer full ride athletic scholarships that are larger than academic scholarships?
2. Would joining the NCAA help retain Canadian athletes or would we instead see the majority of our scholarships go to international applicants given the frequently mention focus on increased international recruitment?
3. How important is it to create a Canadian sports identity for our athletes, and would a lack of the Canadian identity distance future alumni?
4. Though the loss of certain varsity sports is a concern given NAIA’s proposed merger with the NCAA, should UBC be focused on maintaining all of our current varsity programs, or should we focus more on where we can excel?

To be fair, some of the risks are speculative as well. However, things like the time and effort required for accreditation are fairly certain, and are wide-ranging over the entire institution. The distribution of funds between the varsity program and recreation affects all students who use athletic facilities, and it is doubtful that many students would consider the current 75/25 split to be an adequate investment in recreation.

In the end, as I said above, my view is that when taking the entire university into account, the risks of NCAA membership outweigh the advantages. The NCAA decision is by no means an easy or straightforward one to make and the admin will certainly be considering it from many other strategic angles that I can’t contemplate (alumni and donors, internationalization, etc.) Whatever way it goes, I’ll be happy to walk away knowing that the exec has put in the time and effort to ensure they’re making a decision they can fully stand behind.


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  1. One last note on the CIS. The CIS is an extremely lethargic organization and their reaction to the new opportunity the NCAA represents has been lame and reactionary. However, it’s partly a result of the cantankerous manner in which UBC Athletics deals with the CIS and other member institutions.

    The debate over Athletic Financial Aid in the CIS falls roughly along the lines of a dichotomy on how a student athlete is conceived of. Is a student athlete a student first, one who happens to also compete in athletics while taking classes? Or is a student athlete an athlete first, one who happens to attend university while competing?

    The full-ride scholarship model espoused by UBC is based on the latter. Most Canadian schools view their students as students first. Rather than accepting that this is a perfectly valid, though different perspective, UBC often views schools that don’t believe in the full-ride scholarship model to be naive and disinterested in athletic success. As long as that’s the diplomacy used, there’s no way other CIS schools will ever see it UBC’s way.

    Posted by Neal Yonson | April 15, 2011, 6:26 pm
  2. Neil, I can only speak to the second paragraph of your comment, and only anecdotally.

    In any case, in my experience both as Ombuds and roommate of NUMEROUS student athletes (basketball and swimming being the main sports), I would say that most student athletes I’ve come across at UBC are students first, and athletes second. Of course, they get deference from their respective faculties so they can leave the city (and their studies) to compete while still being able to catch up in school, but the trend I’ve seen is for student athletes to be athletes for the 5 years that they’re allowed, and finish school in roughly the same time frame.

    Anyhow this is just anecdotal but more information never hurt anyone, right? Well written article, btw.

    (as Ombuds and having lived in a swimmer-dominated house for 2 years), most of the swimmers and/or basketball players I’ve lived with

    Posted by Hayden Hughes | April 15, 2011, 7:01 pm
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