On team trips to Detroit, many a college athlete has taken the five-minute ride to Windsor, Ontario, for the lakeside city’s nightlife. In the coming years, those visits could be for official business.
St. Clair College, which has a campus in Windsor, has expressed interest in joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association. That possibility became more real over the weekend, as the NCAA endorsed a pilot program that would probably allow two or three Canadian institutions to compete with American colleges.
Because the NCAA's constitution currently bars international membership, each division would need to pass enabling legislation before it can start soliciting Canadian colleges or accept applications. That wouldn't happen until at least April, when the NCAA's Executive Committee has its next meeting.
“The door, if it’s not open, is at least not closed,” said Bob Philip, athletics director at the University of British Columbia, which has also shown interest in joining the NCAA. “If you are looking to get in, what transpired is positive.”
Still, NCAA officials don't expect a mass influx of Canadian colleges. It's unlikely that any more than 10 would ever join the association, said Delise O'Meally, director of governance and membership services for the NCAA. The majority of institutions don't offer enough sports to meet sponsorship requirements, she said. Funding athletic scholarships is another barrier for colleges seeking Division I entry, though it's not an issue for Division III hopefuls (sports scholarships don't exist at that level.)
Officials at the two groups that govern intercollegiate sports in Canada, Canadian Interuniversity Sport and Canadian Colleges Athletic Association, said they don't feel threatened by the NCAA's actions. "Does this open the floodgate? I don't think so," said Marg McGregor, chief executive officer at CIS. "We feel that our quality will keep colleges here. The NCAA is big business, and it takes serious cash to compete in Division I."
While the University of British Columbia hasn't formally applied to the NCAA, officials from the college and the association met two years ago to discuss possible entry, and O'Meally said UBC contacted the NCAA recently about its developments.
"They're a valued member of CIS, and I hope they remain," McGregor said. "If all is said and done and they leave, we would wish them well."
Philip said the goal would be to get all of its teams into Division I. The university has roughly 40,000 students, and its baseball team already plays some games against NCAA Division I colleges.
"[The NCAA] offers the best university-level competition and the best scholarship package,” he said. “There are a number of Canadian athletes who compete in the U.S. every year who should be staying home” [for college].
Philip said he thinks the faculty and administration would support the move, although he expects a serious discussion about what it would mean for compliance issues such as those related to gender equity. O'Meally said any Canadian admit would need to abide by the association's rules and all laws that govern athletic participation.
St. Clair College contacted the NCAA a few years ago about membership but hasn't made an official inquiry, said Jay Shewfelt, athletic coordinator at the college. “We’ve been keeping our eyes and ears open and seeing how it transpired," he said. "It sounds like an opening. We’re happy where we are, but if there’s something worth looking at, we’d be foolish not to look.”
St. Clair’s primary motivation, Shewfelt said, is finding better competition for its men’s hockey program. The league it belonged to closed a few years ago, and the team has competed with some non-collegiate opponents ever since. Division III would be a likely fit for the university, Shewfelt said.
O'Meally said the NCAA has also received a call from Simon Fraser University. All Canadian colleges would need to identify an NCAA conference willing to accept them when they apply, O'Meally said.
The pilot program is limited to Canadian institutions. "We felt that the Canadian educational system more related to our system than any other country," O'Meally said. "From our standpoint, there could be a significant cultural benefit to having our athletes engage in competition in a different country."