‘An uneven playing field’

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(File photo)

Consistently, athletic programs across Canada are searching for means of making their respective school competitive, but also trying to maintain a common ground between athletics, academics and financial stability.

Enter athletic financial awards, or AFAs. These awards are given out throughout the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) to student athletes at the 55 universities across Canada, and are useful in the recruitment, retention and financial aid of the student athletes.

“There are a lot of layers to the scholarships,” Peter Baxter, director of athletics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., said.

But where does the money come from? What limitations are there? There are certain rules and components of the student-athlete’s academic and athletic lives that help determine which athlete will get funded and what sport receives the most.

The CIS rules

As per CIS regulations, there are a few requirements that must be met in order for a student athlete to receive an AFA or athletic scholarship.
Firstly, the student has an “excellence in performance” that the school wants to bring in for the upcoming year, according to Drew Love, director of athletics at McGill University in Montréal, QC.

As well, student athletes entering university from high school must have at least an 80 per cent average to receive an AFA in their first year. If this is achieved, depending on the budget of the particular school and sport, then a nomination process will be completed.
In order to be eligible to have the scholarship continue, the student athlete must maintain an average of 65 per cent or higher in their university studies.
For everywhere in Canada except Ontario, this AFA can dramatically vary. A student entering can receive no financial aid in way of an AFA or athletic scholarship, all the way up to getting their  full tuition and compulsory fees paid for.
“We follow the CIS rules with respect to continuation of a scholarship, which is a C+ average and with the entering awards that’s 80 percent,” said Love. “And then there is a requirement to retain that C+ average to have [the scholarship] continue in the following year.”
For most schools, the athletics department must also comply with their respective awards office. Depending on which requirements are most restrictive, the AFA could be altered.
“We comply with [University of Alberta’s] award policy as well as CIS award policy, so generally speaking, whichever is more restrictive, which is usually the CIS regulations,” said Katie Spriggs, associate director of athletics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alta.
Every university in Canada is encouraged to comply with CIS rules and regulations when it comes to athletic scholarships in order for the student athlete to receive the money. However, not every institution follows the same rules, and not everywhere in Canada has the same tuition fees.

Odd one out
While the rest of Canada works on the same general rules outlined by the CIS, the province of Ontario works a bit differently.

Between the Ontario university presidents and the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) conference, there were revisions made to the scholarship protocol. The two major differences are that Ontario university student athletes must keep an average of 70 per cent throughout their tenure at the respective university, rather than 65 per cent like their country counterparts, and also that they can only receive up to $4,000 rather than the entire tuition and fees.

According to Statistics Canada, for the 2012-13 academic year, tuition in Ontario was $7,180. The highest AFA in Ontario then would leave over $3,000 up to the student to cover on their own.

The tuition average of Canada as a whole is $5,581.

“Our AFAs are so much different than the rest of Canada,” Jeff Giles, director of athletics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., explained. “We are at a significant disadvantage in Ontario. So, in many cases, we give out $4,000 more than we probably should.”

According to Baxter, the Ontario university presidents believed that the Canadian cut off was too low for proceeding athletes, so they raised it to 70 per cent.

“That’s the benchmark and it’s 70 per cent as you go through. The rest of the country is 65 [per cent], which is the CIS rule. But it’s the Ontario presidents that said the academic standard of 65 is not good enough,” he said.

Both Baxter and Giles expressed that due to the restriction of $4,000 given to a potential athlete, this causes issues in recruitment in Ontario.

“You can only give them the most you can give them,” Giles said. “Often that’s the situation and it comes down to where do you really want to go to school?”

Currently, according to Giles and the 2011-12 AFA report, McMaster University sits with the highest total AFA equivalency provided in the OUA, with an equivalency of 66.9 per cent.

“If you look, we are now number one in Ontario for AFAs. And that was a decision we made two years ago,” Giles said. “We wanted to up our game in terms of compete-level and we wanted to recruit better, and in order to recruit better, we had to give out more AFAs.”

The next highest university in Ontario is the University of Windsor with 61.7 AFA equivalency provided. Laurier provides 43.0, according to the AFA report.   The lowest university in Ontario is Trent University, who only provided 0.7 AFAs in the 2011-12 documented year.

“It’s an uneven playing field, and so it’s very frustrating, but all we can do is be competitive within Ontario and let the rest of the country do what they do,” Giles said.

Comparing the country
Depending on the area and conference of the school, total AFAs can be incredibly skewed.
According to the 2011-12 AFA report, the university that provided the highest total AFA equivalency in Canada was the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB, which provided 123 AFAs in 2011-12.As mentioned earlier, the lowest came from Ontario’s Trent University, which provided only 0.7 AFAs.

By conference, the numbers are a bit closer. In the OUA, as mentioned, McMaster University provided the most AFAs with 66.9 and Trent supplied the lowest, against with 0.7.

In the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ), the Université Laval in Laval, QC, provided a total of 67.2 AFAs in 2011-12, while the Université du Québec à Montréal in Montreal, QC gave only 11.1 AFAs.

McGill University gave out 56.9 AFA equivalencies; however, according to Love, McGill also has 29 varsity teams.

In the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference, there is an even larger skew between the highest and lowest AFAs given out. Acadia provided the most AFAs in 2011-12 with 72.6, while Mount Allison University in Sackville, NB, gave out only 10.3.

Finally, in the Canada West University Athletics Association (CWUAA) conference, the numbers are substantially higher. The University of Manitoba, as mentioned, gave 123 AFAs last year, while the lowest, Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC, provided 24.2.

While these numbers are dramatically skewed, it is important to remember that athletic scholarships can be as much as full tuition and as little as a small margin of the full tuition, depending on the school.

Kevin Dickie, director of athletics at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS., John Richard, director of athletics at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, NB, and Love all mentioned that at least half of their student athletes receive some form of AFA.

“And again, the level of the AFA would be all over the map, right from a nominal amount right up to full tuition and fees, which is obviously the most you can award under the CIS regulations,” Richard said.

But while most schools can confidently say that their AFA amount reaches 50 per cent of their student athletes, most cannot say the same about the distribution between genders.

Gender imbalance
According to the 2011-12 AFA report, a lot of schools do not provide the same athletic funding to both males and females.

Some schools have the issue of dealing with the high demands of a varsity football team, while for others it depends on the personal team budget and how they allocate it.

According to Baxter, naturally the CIS tries to get as close to a 50 per cent split of funds between males and females.

“When you distribute it, it has to go between a ten per cent window,” Baxter said.

However, the AFA report displays incredibly skewed ratios.

“We try to keep it balanced between male and female, and some of us do a better job of that than others,” Giles said. “Because [McMaster has] football, it adds a real challenge for us.”

Currently, the AFA equivalency ratio — in percentage — at McMaster is 63 per cent to 37 per cent in favour of males. Laurier’s ratio is 56 per cent to 44 per cent, also in favour of males. The biggest issue in distributing the funds equally is football.

Football naturally has about 90 student athletes, with about 47 receiving some type of funding, and is one of the biggest recruiting classes and sports in the CIS. As a result, a large portion of AFAs and athletic scholarships are put toward football.

In fact, according to the second portion of the AFA report, the total dollar value in 2011-12 toward men’s football was $2,082,623. The average award value of a football AFA recipient was approximately $3,568 — the highest of all sports in the CIS.

The next closest dollar amount in athletic scholarships provided is men’s hockey at $1,752,211.

The highest women’s sport is women’s basketball, which received $1,241,575 in AFAs in 2011-12.

“The greatest difference is, if you took men’s hockey and men’s football out [of Alberta], we’d be skewed in favour of women,” Spriggs explained. “But we’ve had our men’s hockey and football teams for over 100 years.”

Alberta’s ratio in the 2011-12 report was 63 per cent to 37 per cent in favour of males.

However, Spriggs also explained that the Alberta’s athletics department is working toward finding a solution to the major skew.

“We’re doing some internal proactive measures [to bring it even]. We’re dedicating some funds that would be otherwise open to all to women; also we’ve had some fundraising initiatives for female athletes.”

At McMaster, Giles is even considering adding a new program on the women’s side just to even out the skewed funds toward the men.

The total dollar amount in 2011-12 for men was $7,432,486, while the total dollar amount for women was $5,299,704.

The biggest gender imbalance in the AFA funds, however, was reported from Laval University. In 2011-12, Laval’s ratio was 80 per cent in favour of men and only 20 per cent in favour of women.

This could be attributed to the use of recruitment tools at Laval, especially for their consistently dominant football program.

“The other consideration in sports is that you’re going to get a return on your investments,” Dickie said. “You can’t be all things to all people; dollars are hard to come by.”

“It depends on the sport. In some cases you don’t have to offer a lot of AFAs to get the best athletes and in some cases you do. It depends sport by sport,” Giles echoed.

However, there are a few schools that reported not having an issue with the gender imbalance. Most notably was Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., which was reported perfectly even at a 50 per cent balance in 2011-12.

Queen’s was the only school to be entirely even in the CIS. The next closest was Ryerson University in Toronto, Ont., which has a 51 per cent to 49 per cent ratio in favour of females — one of very few in the CIS.

Recruitment and retention
Although there are still issues for universities to figure out when it comes to allocating funds from athletic scholarships, all athletic directors agree that they are significant tools for recruitment in athletics.

“It’s significant for sure and it’s a constant challenge for us and most schools in Canada,” Richard said.

“Obviously we’re all striving to continue to grow our athletic awards and I think it’s important that we do because the student athletes are spending so much time doing it,” Love said.

As tuition in Canada continues to increase, so does the demand for athletic scholarships and AFAs. Athletes work to maintain their scholarships to play at a reputable school, which puts money towards its athletics.

According to Spriggs, the majority of recruitments can decide what school they’d like to attend when they’re told “up front what to expect.” This could mean their expected amount in money, the added bonus of staying local or a use of funds in retention methods.

“[Alberta is] in favour of using athletic scholarships as a means of supporting student athletes,” she said.

But, as Giles put it, these AFAs and athletic scholarships come down to one thing for both the student athlete and the university athletics program — success.

“Like most schools, we play CIS sports to compete and do well, you don’t compete to be average,” he said. “So if increasing AFAs for a coach that says they’ll do better and recruit better and have a better performance, then we can do that.”

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