SACKVILLE (CUP)—The walking distance between Evans, Georgia and the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) head offices in Ottawa is roughly 1,679 km. On Nov. 29, 2012, the foot of Simon Fraser University (SFU) men’s soccer player Carlo Basso sent a shockwave this distance in just a matter of a few seconds.

That moment was the lone goal scored by SFU in a 3–1 semi-final loss to Saginaw Valley State at the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division II Men’s Soccer championship, held in Evans this fall. SFU’s success in men’s soccer and other sports this year, as the first Canadian school in the NCAA, has raised questions about what other Canadian schools could make similar jumps in the coming years.

With an overall membership listed on their website as 1,273, the NCAA easily outnumbers the CIS in size. CIS President-Elect Gordon Grace admitted during a phone interview, “If you’re talking about football we [the CIS] would never have a chance.” He did go on to mention that in some sports, CIS schools would be able to compete with some of the top NCAA schools.

Both organizations have produced their fair share of top talent. In professional sports several hockey player’s paths to the National Hockey League (NHL) has gone through the CIS and NCAA. NHL goaltender Ryan Miller won the 2001 Hobey Baker Award (the top honour for a NCAA men’s hockey player) during his time at Michigan State University. 2002 Olympic Gold Medalist Paul Kariya accomplished the same feat as a member of the University of Maine back in 1993.

Before NHL head coach Mike Babcock made headlines as a Stanley Cup winner and Gold Medal winning coach, he won the 1993–94 University Cup with the University of Lethbridge. For on-ice talent, the CIS has taken on the role of developing players that might still be rough around the edges after stints in Major Junior Hockey. Players like current Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward (University of Prince Edward Island) and Philadelphia Flyers enforcer Jody Shelly (Dalhousie) have enjoyed successful careers so far in the NHL, even after taking the CIS route.

On the amateur sport side, Canada’s only Gold medalist from the 2012 Olympic Games, trampolinist Rosie MacLennan found success while going to the University of Toronto. Another Canadian Olympian, high jumper Derek Drouin, won a bronze medal after a 36 year drought. Drouin’s claim to fame before London was that he was also a three-time NCAA Division One champion, competing for Indiana University.

Despite the size difference, Grace conceded that “a lot of CIS university’s could do it if they chose to do it.” Despite this vote of confidence one of the schools considering making the jump to the NCAA, the University of British Columbia (UBC), declined to do so back in 2011. The decision was made back then by current UBC President Stephen Troop citing his school’s, “proud history within the CIS” in an article filed by The Ubyssey. 

The one main attraction of being associated with the NCAA as opposed to the CIS is the dollar sign attached to it. Andrew Bucholtz, editor of Yahoo! Sports Canada’s 55-Yard Line Canadian football blog, and a devout follower of university football, weighed in on the topic by email. “A non-successful Division III team really doesn’t do much for a school, but even a bad Division I FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] power-conference team still can draw tons of fans, big television games, and plenty of money.”

When comparing dollar signs between the organizations, the results are staggering. Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN) announced last summer that they would shell out eighty-million dollars each year between 2015 and 2026 for broadcast rights to the Rose Bowl, one of the NCAA’s premier football games.

Grace bluntly admitted that this would simply not happen in Canada. “We know we have to get better but at the same time we have to be realistic about who our competition is,” he comments. He went on to elaborate that instead of constantly comparing schools in the CIS to those of similar stature in the NCAA that the focus should be on developing the product with a focus on Canada.

Grace made it clear that he is committed to the CIS brand. He mentioned that schools in Canada “at times…undersell the opportunities in the CIS.” Both the CIS and NCAA have sustainable legacies with several success stories on either side. However, some schools in the CIS may feel like a large fish in a small pond.

Despite this, Bucholtz expects that the case of SFU will be an isolated one. “[The] CIS has shifted enough to address most of the concerns of other schools that were thinking about following suit, though, so it seems likely Simon Fraser’s going to be the only Canadian school in the NCAA for a while.”

For most athletes, the choice can often come down to some large variables such as, money, playing time, or academics. Grace fully encouraged any Canadian who may have a chance to play football at school like Alabama or basketball at a school like Duke, to take advantage of the rare opportunity.

At the end of the day, Grace placed the decision in the hands of the student-athlete. “What’s the best fit for you,” he says.