More from the CIS AGM

Posted by: | June 21, 2009 | Comments Off on More from the CIS AGM

The Coles notes version of this post was already published: CIS restricts dual membership with NCAA.

Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), the organization that governs high-performance sport at the post-secondary level, held its Annual General Meeting from June 8-12 in Gatineau, Quebec.

When UBC decided to defer its decision on NCAA membership until at least 2010, one of the reasons cited was unresolved issues reagarding CIS. In the context of potential NCAA membership, the three main issues identified were (1) Dual membership rules, (2) Athletic Financial Aid rules and (3) Quality of competition within Canada West. The CIS AGM is the only time of year where these issues can be dealt with formally by the CIS membership.

Due to my inordinate interest in athletics at UBC, and the NCAA isssue, I went to check it out.

FYI, the 90-page agenda package is here, including all of the committee reports and background documentation for the few of you who might care. I will pull out things that are more pertinent. Also, the CIS put up their own summary of happenings at the AGM. Their summary is very incomplete, so keep reading.


Day 1 started with some of the more preliminary activities: approval of minutes, and reports from individuals and committees.

Dick White, Athletic Director at the University of Regina and outgoing CIS president, and Marg McGregor, CIS CEO, gave opening remarks. Both of their speeches addressed many of the points contained in the CIS’s Ten Point Plan (TPP). This is a collection of priorities which are designed to help the CIS achieve its vision of being the “destination of choice for Canadian student-athletes.” It is essentially their version of a strategic planning document and was a very central theme throughout the meeting.

Both speeches were based around the idea that the CIS is not meeting its potential and that changes must be made to help the CIS improve. Dick White spoke mostly about the future and about the need for member buy-in to make change happen while Marg McGregor, who at times was extremely quotable, summarized the CIS’s recent activities. In reference to the TPP, she said she wants it to be “CIS’s elevator music: it’s always playing in the background.” When addressing the issue of the NCAA she portrayed them as Wal-Mart, with CIS being the mom and pop corner store.

For the most part, committee reports did not deviate significantly from the written reports in the agenda package. A quick wrap-up of some of the developments from the speeches and reports:

  • Edmonton’s bid for the 2015 Universiade lost out to Gwangju, South Korea
  • The CIS launched new logos (top) to replace their previous one (bottom)
  • A planned expansion of the Women’s Basketball championship to 16 teams was pushed back for another year. The stated reason was prudence due to the current economic situation.
  • CIS secured a major sponsorship deal with Research in Motion
  • They are trying to catch up to new media with a Facebook page, a Twitter feed, a Flickr page and a channel on Youtube.

A few things that are on the horizon for the upcoming year:

  • Clint Hamilton, UVic’s athletic director, taking over as CIS president.
  • Conduct a thorough exploration of how the CIS can partner with the CCAA (Canadian Colleges Athletic Association). This is awaiting government funding.
  • Continue trying to adapt how the CIS deals with media. With many writers now doing blogs (holla!), press releases may not be the best way anymore.
  • Leverage big national championships (basketball, football) in order to ensure a minimum level of service to national championships across all sports.
  • Continue looking at governance reform and financial aid rules in the CIS.

The afternoon of Day 1 was then devoted to discussion sessions. The structure of the AGM is a little curious, since there is a lot of time devoted to these sessions, but at the same time, there are very few bona fide motions coming to the floor to deal with those issues. Lots of interesting ideas regarding eligibility, CIS championships, branding and governance were expressed, but whether any follow-up will occur on these ideas is anyone’s guess.


Day 2 started off with a presentation from UWO’s football coach Larry Haylor, on Canada’s participation in the 2011 World Football Championship, which would in all likelihood involve CIS football players. After that, there was a presentation on a new system for locating football and hockey players in order to administer drug tests.

On a side note, the stats surrounding drug testing in the CIS really surprised me. Last year, four players were caught doping: one for steroids, three for marijuana use. My initial reaction was that university sport in Canada must be very clean, since there was only one violation (I disregard the pot violations since I’m sure it was not used for the purpose of boosting athletic performance). A closer look at the numbers seems to point in a different direction: the CIS boasts having over 10,000 student-athletes across Canada, but only 269 drug tests were administered last year. I realize administering these tests is probably costly, but it strikes me as being extremely low! Is the lack of violations really because the players are clean, or might it have to do with inadequate testing?

At long last, the discussion turned toward my raison d’ĂȘtre, the NCAA.

Background: A motion was brought to the 2008 CIS AGM which would have prohibited all dual membership. This would have been a very problematic policy not just for UBC, but for a number of schools in Canada. Ultimately, this motion was laid on the table while more discussion on the issue could occur. In the year since, during the entire process of examining the NCAA issue, UBC has been waiting patiently to find out what, if anything, the CIS would say about dual membership restrictions. In the last year, the CIS commissioned a report about the NCAA which was based upon both research and feedback received from members (I haven’t read it). The NCAA was also discussed in depth at an April 2009 members meeting. The results of that meeting, in the eyes of the CIS board, was a call to action. Theresa Hanson (director of varsity sports at UBC) told me that in her opinion, the results of the April members meeting were inconclusive at best, only reaffirming that the NCAA was a divisive subject. Nevertheless, the motion that finally came from the CIS is board was:

CIS members are not permitted to play in the NCAA in sports t
hat are offered by CIS.

The first speaker was Dr. David Murphy, athletic Director of SFU. He said that the posturing coming from the CIS was that they are trying to go forward with strength and boldness, but when he looks at the motion it reeks of insecurity and protectionism. In sports, all the schools in the room are in the business of competition. Why, then, should the CIS be afraid of competition, rather than using it as a catalyst to step up their own game? He also brought up that in the academic realm, being worldly and looking globally is considered a virtue. It’s recognized as a good thing to broaden people’s education and this motion flies in the face of that idea. He added that he doesn’t think the NCAA will ever result in a mass migration of schools and that SFU is a very special case. To him, this motion is simply a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived threat.

The response from Katie Sheahan (Concordia) was that she didn’t think this motion was borne out of a defensive reaction, but instead that it is the responsible thing to do since the NCAA has the potential to seriously damage the financial health of the CIS. She also held the view that Dr. Murphy had oversimplified the issue and that the CIS board truly feels that the motion reflects the feelings of members at the April 2009 meeting.

Ivan Joseph (Ryerson) then expressed his view that the CIS’s “destination of choice” mantra was more about keeping Canadian student athletes in Canada, not necessarily in the CIS. In that sense, this motion would not help that goal. To him, allowing institutions to have more options would also give Canadian student-athletes more options, hopefully keeping more of them in Canada.

Gord Grace (Windsor) brought up an interesting point that CIS membership is separate from membership in the regional associations (AUS, QSSF, OUA and Canada West). His example was thus: supposing Windsor joined the NCAA and were prohibited from being CIS members, they would still be allowed to do all their league play in the OUA. In theory, Windsor’s football team could end up winning the OUA championship, but be ineligible to play in the Vanier Cup because Windsor was not in the CIS. If something like that were to ever occur, it would be embarrassing.

Ken Schildroth (York) asked why this motion applied only to the NCAA and not the NAIA.

Dick White responded that the CIS board felt there was a clear distinction between the NCAA and the NAIA in terms of how powerful their brands are. The NAIA does not pose a big threat to the CIS, but the NCAA does due to their extremely high level of recognition. As a result they didn’t think it was appropriate to lump them together.

Theresa Hanson (UBC) had the floor next and acknowledged that the NCAA issue is extremely complex, but that one of the great things about the CIS has been its respect for the autonomy of the individual institutions. If UBC ultimately decides that the NCAA is best, UBC’s autonomy should be respected.

Clint Hamilton (UVic, incoming CIS president) wanted to make it clear that the CIS board has been devoting a lot of time to this issue and has been taking it quite seriously. Through the entire process, he has repeatedly heard how it’s good for institutions, but has never heard any argument about why it’s good for the CIS. The board wants to do what’s best for the CIS, and the evidence seems to show it would be damaging to CIS from a number of angles (ex. sponsorship, marketing, recruiting) by allowing a stronger brand to get a foothold here.

Dick White (Regina, outgoing CIS president) then acknowledged that the motion may appear to be protectionist, but in his opinion that would only be true if this was done in isolation. To him, it’s just one part of a bigger campaign to strengthen the CIS. Allowing the NCAA to enter Canada would put the CIS in a position of weakness and the fact that schools want to put some of their sports in the NCAA and some in the CIS says to him that the CIS is viewed merely a league of convenience. He also stated that he didn’t think this is an issue of autonomy since there are many instances where people give up autonomy. He encouraged everyone to support the motion and thought it was one of the most important motions in a number of years

Pat Murray (CIS VP Marketing) pointed out that they just want schools to show commitment to the CIS; that you’re either in or you’re out.

David Murphy (SFU) took the floor again to express his worry that there may be a lot of misinformation out there and that SFU’s move to the NCAA won’t be painless for anyone involved, including SFU. They just support the ability to choose. Rather than trying to shut out competition, the CIS just needs to learn to adapt and will ultimately be successful.

Marg McGregor (CIS CEO) then took the opportunity to respond to a number of point that had been raised. She acknowledged that the CIS was being protective of their interests and that they were doing so in the best interests of the CIS, stating unequivocally, “I make no apologies for trying to protect the CIS.” She also acknowledged that choice is important at the institutional level, but that everyone also needs to take the national interests into account. On the topic of looking globally, she said that the CIS already has rules in place about foreign players, so recognizing and protecting Canadian interests is nothing new. She ended by warning that if the motion was defeated, it would make the CIS a weak and vulnerable organization.

The last word went to Leo MacPherson (St. FX) who said that his institution, and all those Atlantic Canada, were largely ambivalent about this issue since there was no threat of losing AUS members to the NCAA. He urged every school who felt ambivalent about this motion to show their support to the CIS board and vote in favour.

Phew. So there you have it. I was quite surprised that UBC did not speak up more, or offer a more compelling argument than the need for institutional autonomy. (Bob Philip was not present to give his take: he had to fly back to Vancouver earlier in the day.) However, at the same time, I kinda doubt it would have made any difference. It really seemed like everyone had made up their mind beforehand; no one was about to be swayed either way by the arguments put forth. That comes as no surprise. That’s the pattern you see whenever you talk about the NCAA in Canada.

The two discussion periods that followed were about Athletic Financial Aid (AFA) and partnering with the CCAA. I won’t go into to much detail, suffice it to say that it seems unlikely that there will be any significant movement on the AFA front in the near future. They are going to ‘explore’ a flexible scholarship model, but the AFA committee did a survey of schools and found that there is little traction for major changes to AFA policy.

In the afternoon of day 2 is when the voting finally occurred (like I said, AGM structure is a bit odd where discussion and voting happen separately). For the record:
CIS members are not permitted to play in the NCAA in sports that are offered by CIS.

For: 55 Against: 20
CIS members are not permitted to play in the NAIA in sports that are offered by CIS, unless they also compete in that sport within CIS, effective September 2011.

For: 64 Against: 19
CIS support in principle the exploration of a flexible scholarship model in concert with striking a Board Task Force to do further study and review to address the challenges and issues that CIS members have identified.


The AFA motion is pretty toothless, but the NAIA motion has the potential to further complicate things for UBC. Theresa Hanson identified Cross Country as the sport it would affect most.

So what’s next for UBC on
the NCAA front? As far as I can tell, not much. Trying to get some clarity on accreditation seems to be the only major outstanding issue that needs to be addressed. (Of course, I still consider the distribution of funds from the athletic fee, and the structure and transparency of UBC Athletics major outstanding issues that need to be addressed – but I am probably alone on that.)

What will be helpful over the next year is that SFU, apparently completely undeterred by the accreditation requirement, already submitted their application. Over the next year, UBC will be able to simply watch from the sidelines to see how the application process unfolds. During that time, it may be possible to reach the point where nothing except careful deliberation is standing in the way of hearing the outcome. However, I’m not sure anyone is in a hurry to get there quite yet.


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