By Steve Petrick
Ryerson recruiters don’t have an easy time luring athletes to the school, and an increase on the athletic scholarship cap won’t make things easier.
In December, athletic directors from the 18-school Ontario University Athletics conference voted to raise the maximum award for student athletes to $2,500 from $1,500. The move could make small schools unable to compete with those that have strong alumni support.
Starting in Sept. 2001, returning students with grade point averages of 2.67 or higher will be eligible to apply for the awards.
More than two thirds of the league supported the increase, but Ryerson’s assistant athletic director Chuck Mathies was among those who opposed it, saying he doesn’t have the budget to compete with other schools.
“Right now I don’t have the funds to say, ‘great, move the amount up,’” Mathies said. “In time hopefully that will be the case and we’ll be able to move our levels forward.”
In each of the past two years Ryerson gave its athletic department $300,000 to distribute to athletes who meet the OUA academic requirements and demonstrate financial need. This year 25 athletes received awards worth either $1,000 or $1,500.
Mathies believes the increase will not have a big impact on Ryerson sports teams. All it will do is force the department to increase its fundraising efforts to create more bursaries for athletes who are too busy to work part-time jobs.
But critics say increasing the cap will create an uneven playing field, and since most schools solicit alumni money to create athletic awards, smaller schools such as Ryerson will lose out.
“It’s a given,” said University of Waterloo athletic director Judy McCrae, who also contested the increase. “If there’s more students at the school, then there’s more alumni to donate.” That means big schools will have an unfair advantage when recruiting high school athletes, she said.
Mathies says he can’t recall an athlete ever turning down a chance to play for Ryerson to seek an athletic award at another university. Several Ontario schools have offered $1,500 bursaries since the mid-1980s, but Ryerson only began to last year.
Mathies, however, did acknowledge that it’s time his department look into soliciting funds from alumni.
That route has worked successfully for the winner of this year’s football championship, the University of Ottawa. One of Ontario’s biggest advocated of athletic awards, the school gave out about 80 bursaries this year, ranging from $500 to $1,500 — a total of roughly $80,000 — after recently creating an endowment fund paid for by alumni.
“We raised this by finding alumni who are sympathetic to sports,” athletic director Luc Gélineau said. “If others want to make it a priority, they’ll find the money.”
Gélineau thinks the $2,500 cap is still too low. He’d like to offer as much as 70 per cent of a student’s tuition so his teams can recruit athletes in Quebec, where tuition fees are usually half the amount of an Ontario school’s.
Most other directors in the province say they don’t worry about recruitment wars because they believe students will eventually choose a school for its academic programs. But Rams hockey player and fourth-year information technology management student Jason Kotack thinks if his school had more money to offer recruited athlete, they’d give Ryerson more serious consideration.
“We have a problem with recruiting as it is because York and U of T have more popular [academic] programs,” he said. “But if we have more money we could draw some more players. It would definitely be enticing.”
School’s that aren’t prepared dish out up to $2,500 in awards to a player next year could find themselves in the worst scenario of all Canadian Interuniversity Athletic Union schools. They’ll not only risk losing recruits to wealthier Ontario schools but also to ones in Western Canada, Quebec and the Maritimes.
New guidelines set by the CIAU in June permitted schools to offer as much as full tuition to athletes who meet academic requirements. All non-Ontario universities adopted the rules immediately.
“What really bothers me is our kids don’t get the same opportunity as kids at other schools do,” Bob Marsh, Ryerson men’s basketball assistant coach said over the weekend from a hotel room in Halifax. His team was there to play in a tournament that featured mostly Maritime teams.
“You look at everybody’s roster here and each team has four to 10 guys from Ontario. We’re competing with other conferences.”