by Blaine Meller
Mount Royal University’s student athletes could soon be facing new competition.
The Cougars’ athletic department has formally applied to join the ranks of the Canada West Universities Athletic Association (CWUAA). The CWUAA currently has 13 universities competing under its umbrella, including the University of Calgary, University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge.
Five members of the CWUAA selection committee visited Mount Royal Jan. 14 and attended the Cougars’ basketball games against King’s University College. These members will go back to Canada West’s board and make a recommendation on whether or not to admit the university. That decision should be made at Canada West’s annual general meeting this May.
If approved, the Cougars could receive probationary, non-playing status for the 2011-12 season, in which case they would remain part of the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC). From there, if no issues arose, Mount Royal could receive playing status for the 2012-13 season, but would remain on probation.
According to Karla Karch, Mount Royal’s manager of athletics, the CWUAA will judge the university in a number of areas, including facilities, academic monitoring, budgets and financial assistance for student athletes. Karch also said the decision to apply for Canada West, and ultimately Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) status, has been a 10-year process.
“I have no question whatsoever about whether or not we’re ready for this,” said Karch. “We would not be pursuing this if we weren’t confident in our application and what we can bring to Canada West.”
That confidence, specifically in what the university can bring to Canada West and how it will make the conference better, is one area the selection committee will be taking a hard look at, said Karch.
During their visit, the selection committee members, representing the universities of Lethbridge, Victoria, Manitoba, Alberta and Thompson Rivers, met a number of student athletes, inspected athletic facilities and pored over proposed budgets, which Karch has prepared up to and including the 2014-15 season. In total, there are about 16 specific criteria the university will need to address to be considered for inclusion in the CWUAA.
“The criteria used in the application process are far more intense now than they were 10 years ago,” said Karch.
Another area the selection committee will be looking at is the number of coaches on campus on a full-time basis. Karch said Mount Royal has addressed this by having each of its varsity coaches also serve in a coordinator’s position in areas like student development, camps and community outreach. That way, she said, coaches remain more closely linked to the university community.
One of the biggest challenges facing Mount Royal in the application process is that of proposed budgets. Karch said that her budget will “at least double” by the time the 2014-15 season rolls around. She also said Mount Royal’s university status doesn’t equal additional funding for the athletic department.
“No doubt, this is going to require huge support, financially and emotionally, from the university,” she said.
Further to that will be additional travel costs, as Canada West teams play in all four western provinces.
“Travelling by airplane is certainly different from a financial standpoint. Taking a bus for a road game on a Friday night, you’re usually returning the same night. With air travel, it’s another seat on the plane and another hotel room to book,” she said.
When it comes to scholarships, the CIS currently allows for only 70 per cent of a team’s roster to be considered for “full-ride” packages, where the student has fees and tuition covered by the university.
For example, the men’s and women’s soccer team could each have 18 players receive full scholarships. At an average of $5,500 tuition per year, that amounts to $198,ooo, just for the soccer squads.
Karch said playing in Canada West could attract more student athletes to the university, largely because the CIS is the “highest level of amateur athletics” in the country.
“I have no doubt that some of our programs are ready to compete with Canada West right now,” said Karch, adding that regardless of the sport, there will likely be a three-to-five year transition period for all programs.
Despite that, she admitted there is a possibility that fewer student athletes will be selected and retained by the various coaches because of increasing costs and admission standards, which currently require an 80 percent average
Currently, Mount Royal has 192 student athletes, a number that could decrease based on these restrictions and standards, said Karch.
Mount Royal has captured 126 provincial and 16 national championships since 1964.