Could the NCAA become the North American Collegiate Athletic Association? The NCAA recently laid the groundwork for an international expansion. In an almost unnoticed vote during the NCAA Convention last month, NCAA members voted 259-8 in favor of moving forward with a pilot program that would allow Canadian universities to apply for membership in Division II. The move is has precedents. Simon Fraser University in British Columbia played in NAIA for years, and applied for membership in NCAA Division II in 1998. The application was denied on procedural grounds, but the interest was mutual, and both the NCAA and SFU continued to explore options. The NCAA vote clears the way for Canadian universities to start playing in Division II as soon as 2009 and become full members of Division II in 2011. There is also a provision for Canadian universities to eventually become members of Division I.
Most of the Canadian universities that have expressed interest in joining the NCAA have been in the western part of Canada, where there are relatively few universities, and travel costs to many US universities in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana would be less than travel to, say, Saskatchewan or Manitoba. To date, SFU (enrollment 18,000) and the University of British Columbia (enrollment 35,000) have expressed interest in joining the NCAA, with SFU’s interest much stronger than UBC’s. A third likely candidate is my own institution, the University of Alberta (enrollment 35,000). My colleague, Marvin Washington, has recently suggested that the U of A should join the NCAA.
UBC and the U of A are large, urban comprehensive public research universities with research and student admission requirements comparable to PAC-10 universities. However, Canadian scholarship and eligibility rules are different than NCAA rules. For example, hockey players who played in the semi-professional Western Hockey League can play college hockey in Canada. I have worked at a Big 10 University and a Division I university with no football program, and attended a Division III university (that happens to play Division I lacrosse only). The athletic facilities here at the U of A are closer to those at Division III Johns Hopkins than to Division I with no football UMBC. I can see the cost savings for some Canadian universities, although the upgrade in facilities could be very expensive. It will be interesting to see how this develops over the next few years.