3rd and a long way to go: A look at the viability of a Brock football team

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The bright lights, the crowd chanting, the crisp air, the referee’s whistle blows, and the sounds of the game reverberate throughout the stadium. Fans roar as the ball travels through the air, in a crescendo that almost parallels the parabolic arc of the pigskin. It is undoubted that football can be one of the most exciting sports to watch and to play.

Our neighbours to the south have shown us how popular football played at the university level can become. Entire towns shut down when the nearby university plays a football game. 19 of the 23 largest stadiums by capacity in North America are college football stadiums. This includes the eight largest stadiums, which happen to be the only ones that hold over 100,000 people. Last year, the national championship between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs was the second highest rated sports broadcast in the United States behind the Super Bowl.

With the popularity of college football in America, Canadians have looked to their own schools for a similar experience. It is unrealistic to ever expect U Sports to be able to compete with NCAA Division I – or even Division II for that matter. In the OUA, only 11 out of 20 member schools have a football program and on the national scale. In U Sports, only 27 of 56 schools field football teams. However, the most popular U Sports event has historically been the Vanier Cup, the Canadian national football championship game for universities. As such, many sports and football fans scattered around universities across Canada might desire for their university to compete for this prestigious trophy.

Here in St. Catharines, Brock University has never had a football team. Some students may have seen the satirical posters celebrating 50 years of our undefeated record. You might hear the occasional cry for a football team at Brock, but if you are looking for concrete evidence or official statements on even the development of a varsity football program, nothing serious has ever taken real effect.

Some may have thought with the hiring of former football star, Vanier Cup champion, three-time Grey Cup champion, former CFL general manager and former OUA football coach with the University of Guelph Neil Lumsden as Athletic Director, that this was the stepping stone they needed for football to kickoff at Brock. Lumsden and co. have built up an athletic program that continues to break records in championships and has dominated in some sports, even creating dynasties, but no football team has emerged. Lumsden has made his position clear.

“I don’t believe [football] is a viable option,” said Lumseden. While that may be frustrating to students, this article will delve deeper into that statement and examine where Lumsden is coming from.

There has been a recent uproar for a football team with the election of Peter Henen as Vice-President of External Affairs for the next academic year. In his election platform, he vowed to build mental resilience within students by promoting a more social and united culture at Brock via biweekly campfires, better club funding and begin the process for a football team. Adding that “overall, it is our duty being the student union to do everything in our capabilities, to find the keys and open up all necessary doors to make students’ wish list (sic) a reality.”

However, as he indicated in an executive debate, he has not spoken with Lumsden, or anyone in administration for that matter, regarding a football team. As such, this article looks to ensure students have a fully-developed understanding of what it would take to bring a football program to Brock. Here are some aspects that would need to be addressed if a Brock Badgers football team were ever to kickoff in St. Catharines.

Stadium/Facilities

When a brand-new field, fit out with pristine turf, was opened in 2015 as Alumni Field, there was definitely a subsection of people that thought this was the precursor for a hypothetical Brock Badgers football team. However, there would be much to do to turn Alumni Field into a facility that can house a football team to play in U Sports. There are countless amendments and additions that would have to be completed in order to convert Alumni Field into a fully functioning football stadium, or field, that fulfills all the requirements of an OUA football facility. As such, it is near-impossible to list and address all of those changes here. Instead,  this analysis is an attempt to convey the scope of how large an undertaking that this project would be.

First, before even addressing Alumni Field, there have been some calls to play at Kiwanis Field, located behind the Seymour-Hannah Centre where the Brock Badgers hockey teams play. However, there are logistical and logical issues with this proposal. Hockey has always struggled to get Badger fans out to Seymour-Hannah and football would likely experience the same issues at that location.

“If you are going to bring football to the university, you do it right and bring it on campus,” said Lumsden. “The field near Seymour-Hannah is not feasible, so there really isn’t an off-site location available.”

In addition to the awkward location, Lumsden points to the lacking facilities, seats, and locker rooms that could not accommodate either U Sports or OUA regulations.

Returning to Alumni field, it takes more than just throwing up a couple of seats and lengthening the field to bring in a football team. As a former player, coach and general manager, he knows that bringing a football team means creating all of the new infrastructure that would be required to support it. That means massive locker rooms with state-of-the-art equipment. There needs to be vastly improved sports medicine facilities, especially with the plethora of extra health services that football may require. Then, with all the extra equipment and practice materials, there needs to be lots of additional storage space found in a school that seems to already lack space. Even then, there needs to be offices, meeting rooms, analysis rooms and other facilities.

With regards to existing facilities, that will either mean a separate high-performance centre or restricting access to other varsity teams when athletes already have to compete among themselves for access and time.

“You look at the success of our wrestling team, and sometimes they’re working out in a squash court or a dance studio,” said Lumsden. “And then we want to spend a million dollars on something we don’t have? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Cost

After the 1998 OUA football season, the Carleton Ravens announced they were cutting their football team effective immediately as a cost-cutting measure. They then went on to focus more resources on a wider variety of sports and in one of their premier programs, they won their first men’s basketball championship in 2003 and have only lost the McGee Trophy in two seasons since. In 2009, Ravens alumni and Ottawa business mogul John Ruddy donated $2.5 million for a football team. As of 2013, when the team first kicked off again after their 15-year hiatus, a Globe and Mail article reported that Old Crows Football Inc. (the alumni association that is fully funding the Carleton Ravens football program) had financed a $3.1 million renovation to the Keith Harris stadium and pledged over $5 million to cover operating costs for at least the first five years.

Lumsden points to Carleton’s cost of re-entry as not even what would be required, but only a fraction of it since Brock is building from nothing. “Where is all the money coming from?” asked Lumsden. When confronted with the financial burden of a football team, Henen had a response with as much substance as his initial campaign promise. “Looking for sponsorship will also be a key player in this goal.”

Even if the program can start up, football is one of the hardest sports to maintain. Most often, games never sellout, and if they do, it is either for homecoming or the playoffs.

“If you look across the OUA football league, not everyone is filling stadiums,” said Lumsden. The Queen’s Gaels may be one of the best football programs in Ontario, and outside of their home opener and homecoming game, their average attendance percentage hovers at around 25 per cent.

“Just because it is football, it doesn’t mean that people are just going to come knock your doors down and buy tickets,” said Lumsden.

In summary, it seems that right now is not the time to develop a varsity football team.

“I’ve had the discussion before. When people look at the facts, they sit back and are in disbelief. They didn’t realize what it took to bring in a football team, and I don’t blame them. I’ve lived it and I have an idea,” said Lumsden.

However, with Henen winning his election and rekindling the argument, many people have been inclined to start advocating for a team without understanding the breadth of the undertaking.

“Regarding a football team – to some, it seems impossible or (sic) that it somehow has negative implications on the school’s name,” said Henen. “Other universities have a football team, universities such as McMaster and Harvard.”

The comparison, however, does not hold up. Harvard University is a NCAA Division I school with an athletic budget that makes Brock look like a community centre and a football program that is one of the oldest in the world dating back over a century.

“We either work together to see how we can accomplish this, or we bicker among ourselves that this is not possible meanwhile other schools are actively progressing at a much greater rate to say the least,” said Henen.

Without football, the Brock Badgers athletic program might just be reaching an all-time peak with no signs of slowing down. The wrestling program is an indubitable dynasty. The entire athletic department is on the verge of breaking a record for championships in a single athletic year.

It has been addressed how football could be detrimental to that progress and could even impact the future development of the athletic department as well.

“What impacts a recruit is the energy and attendance and the school’s support of our athletic teams right now,” said Lumsden. “When you take them to a Meridian [Centre] game or a playoff game. When you take them to Alumni Field and there are people surrounding the field. That community and culture is what has the effect on the recruit. Some might suggest that they find it more attractive that there isn’t a football team here.”

Lumsden says he wishes that students sometimes were more appreciative of what has been built and what is continuing to be developed.

“I love what football represents to young people and the building of character, but you also have that in other sports. We have to take care of what we have before we worry about bringing in more. Football is a beast. It’s not a possibility that football will overshadow other sports, it already happens. By the nature of football, all other sports will take a back seat to it. Go to a basketball, hockey, soccer [or] rugby games. It’s just as much fun, if not more, as a football game.”

Conversely, Henen has claimed that he is just representing the students.

“If backed by the students through a referendum, it is the responsibility of the university administration to peruse it,” said Henen. However, what students and Henen himself may not know is that this “perusal” has already happened by Lumsden and his team.

“When I go through this process, we don’t even get there,” said Lumsden. “Because we can’t get through the first few points from a realistic perspective.”

Henen may have galvanized a silent majority by using his rhetoric with regards to his promising a football team to help him connect with students in an extremely tight election. However, while it may be frustrating to some football fans, one should understand why Lumsden speaks on behalf of the administration when he maintains that football at Brock is not the right path forward.

“After hearing all that needs to be done for a football team, I don’t even understand why someone would still come to me and ask about it,” said Lumseden. “I’m open to the discussion because I love football because it’s been a huge part of my life, but I come back to the core and solid fundamental pieces you need to build a successful business model and we just don’t have it. Not even close and I’m okay with that. I would hope this makes it pretty crystal clear for people.”

Moreover, even if it is a possibility down the line, it is evident that the time is simply not right.

“To sacrifice what you have to get something else is not smart, and that’s what we would be doing,” said Lumsden. “You don’t tear down to build up.”

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