By John Mather
It was an offer Shannon Ferreira couldn’t refuse: an all-expenses paid education at the University of New York at Buffalo.
She would be a starting Division-One soccer player in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA); a feat reserved for only the top North American players. Ferreira chose Buffalo over six other American offers because it was the closest to her Brampton home.
But it wasn’t close enough. “I just wasn’t enjoying myself,” she said, recalling her time there. Ferreira’s intense practice and game schedule left her with little free time. “Your life revolved around sports,” she said. Ferreira quickly got homesick. In her first semester, Jean-A. Tassy, Buffalo’s women’s soccer coach, said the quick-footed soccer star excelled on the field but dug herself into a deep academic hole. Tassy insisted he placed Ferreira’s academic interests first.
“For an athlete who is on a scholarship, it is like a job. You have to become a model citizen representing the university.”
Although Ferreira picked up her GPA in the second term, Tassy said, it was too late. Ferreira lost her free ride. Now, she pays to play for the Ryerson Women’s soccer team.
In Canada, Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) allows universities to offer scholarships worth up to the cost of tuition and mandatory expenses. First-year players with an entering average of 80 or higher and returning players with at least a 65 per cent average are eligible. However, Ontario University Athletics trumps CIS regulations. The OUA bars athletes from being eligible for any athletic awards until the end of their first year.
The regulatory body also raises the academic bar by requiring a minimum 70 per cent average, with awards subject to a maximum $3,500 annually per player. Ward Dilse, Executive Director of the OUA, said the organization is working on breaking tradition and increasing award opportunities. The more money the OUA allows universities to offer, explained Dilse, the fewer players will be lost to other provinces and the States.
“(The OUA) does offer financial awards, we believe in them and we think it’s something that is going to develop in the coming years,” Dilse said.
Wining and Dining
Two Division-One NCAA schools offered Rams basketball player Igor Bakovic scholarships last year, but it was a Division-Two NCAA school in Memphis that grabbed his interest. Last spring, Memphis called Bakovic to offer him a scholarship.
The switch would not be ideal. With only two years of eligibility in the NCAA, the 6-foot-10 centre would have had to take a third year to complete his degree and could have been on the line for a year’s expenses, an estimated $20-30,000 (Cdn). “Pretty much I didn’t want to be in debt,” he said. Bakovic flew down to Memphis anyway, where he practiced with other prospects. Included with the complementary plane ticket were hotel accommodations and ringside seats to a boxing match. Bakovic sat next to former NBA star Jerry West. “It got pretty exciting,” he recalled. “I knew I wouldn’t get this treatment when I played for them.”
And so, Bakovic stayed at Ryerson. He’s happy with the choice. “Things are looking good here (at Ryerson). A lot of positive are going on. So I am not really thinking about what if I went to the States.” Rams Scholarships Currently Ryerson offers two awards for varsity athletes. The Rams Academic Award, worth $1,500, is given to four athletes each year who maintain a GPA of at least 3.5. Last year’s winners were Erin Gallagher, women’s volleyball; Andy Guiry, rowing; Vladimir Matevski, men’s basketball; and Justine Navarro, women’s basketball.
Twenty-four Blue and Gold Awards, worth $1,000 each, are available to any athlete who has a minimum 2.67 GPA and demonstrates a high standard of character, leadership and athletic skill. The awards office keeps the recipients’ names confidential.
Degree vs. Opportunity
“I pretty much had the transfer papers in my hand,” said volleyball’s Brianne Koning, who toured Michigan’s Hillsdale College last summer after they offered her $20,000 a year. However, it seemed the sport commitment would be overwhelming.
“It was pretty much like they owned you. I honestly can’t see myself having volleyball as my number one in life.” If she had accepted the offer, Koning would not have been able to study nursing, as she does at Ryerson. Instead, Koning would have pursued a Bachelor of Science, before returning to Ontario for school.
“The only thing (other players) go down to the States for is the money.”
Glenn Taylor, Ryerson’s men’s basketball coach, said the NCAA scholarship reality includes expectations that are not ideal for young athletes. “The grass is not always greener because you have your way paid,” he said. Taylor said he would like to see the introduction of entrance scholarships for Ontario athletes so they do no get lured South, or elsewhere in Canada. “Ontario is really dragging its feet compared to other provinces. I think (entry athletic scholarships) will happen. I just don’t know when,” he said.
Men’s volleyball coach Mirek Porosa agreed, adding he would like to see full scholarships introduced. “I don’t see why the athletes cannot obtain the athletic scholarship. They are out there representing the school like other scholarship winners,” said Porosa, whose team is undefeated this season. Team star Ryan Vandenburg turned down Pennsylvania State and North Carolina before coming to Ryerson to study urban planning. He was last year’s OUA athlete of the year.
“My time here at Ryerson, I definitely wouldn’t give it up for anything,” Vandenburg said. Women’s Soccer coach Peyvand Mossavat sees a scholarship system similar to the NCAA as a way to improve competition. “It would not only improve the level of OUA competition, but improve amateur sports in general.” Mossavat recruited Ferreira to be an impact player and she has done just that. On November 14, Ferreira was named to the Ontario all-star team.
Her impressive speed and timely goals got the Rams one game shy of a playoff berth. Off the field, the Diploma in Arts student said she is happier, although she foots the bill for her education. “It isn’t a drag to get out of bed in the morning anymore.”