The step up to Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) that was being considered by Grant MacEwan University administration is no longer going ahead.
The MacEwan Griffins teams will continue playing in the Canadian Colleges Athletics Association (CCAA), rather than making the move up to the more competitive CIS league, where the University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas play in, at least for now.
“If I were an athlete, I’d be disappointed, just as if they had planned to be in the music degree and we said, ‘Well, no we don’t have any money,’” said Cathryn Heslep, vice president of student services for the university.
“We have to look at it that way and that’s what we’re going to do. But I think, if anything, I want to convey that, from an institutional perspective, our athletics program is very important and we’re going to continue to do whatever we can to continue to support it and, perhaps, enhance that support to the athletics program.”
Money is exactly what the decision came down to. The MacEwan athletics budget would have had to undergo a “huge” and “significant” increase if they were to make the jump to CIS and the administration deemed it wasn’t feasible at this time.
However, Heslep emphasized that the administration was in favour of the move to CIS, but it just wasn’t the right time. That right time could come not too long from now, though.
“I really believe that, perhaps, with a first-year athlete, that by the end of their tenure here, they could conceivably be playing in the CIS,” Heslep added.
“I can’t promise it, because I can’t foretell the future, but if the price of oil and the price of gas skyrocket, and we get more money from the (provincial) government, it could be a different scenario.”
Originally, MacEwan was going to wait until 2012 to take the first steps towards a move to CIS.
That is, until they found out that the CIS had changed and sped up their application process.
Last August, they were told they’d have to signal their intent by the fall.
To be a member of CIS, you must also have to be a member of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, which MacEwan is in the process of.
They’d also need an increased athletics budget, in part because of the increased travel that CIS teams have to do.
MacEwan administration thought it was a good idea and thought they could make it work, but they got some disappointing news from the provincial government in “October or November.”
Heslep said MacEwan heard from the Ministry of Advanced Education that for the fourth consecutive year, all public universities and colleges in Alberta would not be receiving any increase to their grants they receive from the government.
That’s in contrast to what they were expecting, and much different from the type of funding institutions were getting from the government in the past.
Prior to the four years with no increase, Heslep said there was three years of six-per-cent increases. Heslep added that the grant money they get from the provincial government makes up 47 per cent of their revenue.
Under the original plan, six Griffins teams — the men’s and women’s teams in soccer, volleyball and basketball — were slated to make the move.
Getting into CIS was something that coaches and athletes alike expressed interest in since MacEwan started offering baccalaureate degrees five years ago, according to Heslep.
“We certainly knew that our coaches had been telling us that when they’re out recruiting, the athletes are asking them, ‘When are you going to go CIS?’” she said.
However, along with the administration facing no increase to their grant money there were two other financial pressures being placed on the administration when looking at the budget.
One, MacEwan didn’t receive any separate funding when they began offering their newest degrees — music, commerce and communications — like what had happened in the past.
And two, the maximum allowable increase to tuition fees, set by the provincial government, that universities can make is 0.35 per cent, which was recently approved by MacEwan’s Board of Governors, said Heslep.
She said the general reaction she got from the Griffins coaches for the CIS application decision was that they were disappointed, but that they understood the decision.
Meanwhile, men’s volleyball coach Jon Heinen said, “We’re going in whatever direction the institution goes in, so it doesn’t really impact our team a whole lot.”
Heinen added it would be great to see MacEwan eventually make the jump to the CIS and that there isn’t a huge difference between the CCAA and CIS, but there is a shift in the attitude of the teams.
“The mentality is a little more, you’d almost say, professional,” he said. “These guys are really highly motivated and they’re the best athletes. That’s not to discredit the CCAA.
“Certainly, some really amazing teams come out of the CCAA, but I still think there’s something there that makes it a little more of a stronger program than the CCAA.”
Heslep added that Mount Royal University is now in the CIS application process, but that the Calgary institution became a university before MacEwan did and intended to become a university many years before that.