Over 10,000 university students from across Canada participate, each year, in 12 national sporting competitions: basketball, cross-country running, curling, field hockey (women’s), football (men’s), ice hockey, rugby union (women’s), soccer, swimming, indoor track & field, volleyball, and wrestling.
These competitions, resulting in National Championship titles, comprise up to 3,000 events every university year, during the Fall and Winter terms.
The organization responsible for these events is the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), “the national governing body of university sport in Canada, comprising the majority of degree granting universities in the country.” Its name in French is Sport interuniversitaire canadien (SIC).
The best student athletes attend, every two years, World University Games and “compete with the best from around the globe in 12 sporting disciplines at the Summer Games and 7 sporting disciplines at the Winter Games.” Some of them earn spots in professional leagues such as the Canadian Football League (CFL), the [US] National Football League (NFL), the [Canada-US] National Hockey League (NHL), etc.
Canadian universities offer scholarships to student athletes that may cover the value of tuition and compulsory fees. In addition, students may receive non-athletic scholarships based on academic merit and/or special needs. They receive sport medical and paramedical support, and have access to therapy and counselling services. There are also provincial and national sources of financial support (e.g., the federal government’s Athlete Assistance Program, administered by Sport Canada), plus awards from private and not-for-profit organizations and municipal governments.
Some athletes considering a university scholarship apply to US institutions, where the main governing body for university sport is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Athletic programs are seen as a very significant part of the post-secondary education in the United States and US universities work closely with the NCAA to provide opportunities for students and enhance the schools’ overall reputation.
The CIS and Athletics Canada (the sport governing body for track and field) recently prepared an information guide for university-bound student athletes and their parents and coaches, indicating that “it is becoming increasingly evident that for many the ‘Canadian option’ is the best.” They list a number of arguments to support this position, by looking at factors such as location, financial support opportunities and students’ goals (athletic and academic).
The CIS and Athletics Canada point to several facts in their assessment: “athletes in Canada have 5 years of eligibility” (4 years in the US), “have greater control of performance objectives,” and have access to programs that “offer a good balance between athletic and academic challenges.” In addition, tuition in Canada is less expensive than in the United States (in many cases significantly less expensive!) and is tax deductible (some scholarships in the US are considered income).
From Thompson Rivers U. (WolfPacks) and U. of Alberta (Golden Bears/Pandas) in the West to Carleton U. (Ravens) and U. Laval (Rouge-et-Or) in the East to Dalhousie U. (Tigers) and Memorial U. (Sea-Hawks) in Atlantic Canada, varsity sports are an important part of the Canadian university experience – granted, not on the same scale and having the same level of visibility as in the United States.