Last November, university presidents from across Canada gathered in Toronto to debate a proposed overhaul of the university sport system and to halt the exodus of elite athletes who are Canadian high-school grads moving to American schools.
About 3,500 Canadian athletes are enrolled in U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association programs competing in sports offered at Canadian Interuniversity Sport schools.
Part of this southern pilgrimage can be attributed to the spotlight placed on American collegiate athletes by a variety of major professional sports recruiters.
While Canadian universities have more than enough to offer student athletes in terms of both academic and competitive opportunities, some student athletes (and their parents) believe, rightly or wrongly, that the only way they’ll ever play in the big leagues is to play against the best possible competition — namely in the NCAA’s Division I — and that means moving to the U.S.
But winning an offer to a U.S. NCAA Division I program isn’t easy. Some Canadian kids assume that if they are talented enough, U.S. colleges will find them and offer them a scholarship.
Not at all. There is a lot of competition for those spots. Aspiring athletes need to write letters and sell themselves to U.S. universities and colleges.
But there’s more. Most Canadian universities have a simplified application with the admissions decision mostly based on Grade 12 averages. In comparison, many U.S. colleges take into consideration the students’ grades, SAT scores, extra-curricular activities and college essays.
For Grade 11 students in Canada, now is the time to start putting all that together.
NCAA scholarships, while they do not cover everything, are generous and start at year one of enrolment. Canadian Interuniversity Sports policy, on the other hand, does not offer entrance scholarships for athletics — athletes can only receive funding upon entering their second year of school, and even then, athletic awards or bursaries cover only payment of tuition or compulsory fees.
A biggie, although most kids would never admit it, is moving away from home, especially if it involves a move to the U.S. That’s a much bigger step than some kids and their parents anticipate; at least, that was our family’s experience.
Canadian kids who have ranked well in their sport, even nationally in Canada, but who suddenly find themselves at a U.S. NCAA Division I school may be initially lost, even a little overwhelmed at a school that has attracted its athletes from a much bigger and more competitive pool.
Parents should understand that a not-insignificant percentage of Canadian athletes return home from U.S. schools during or at the end of their first year.
Then there are the really big considerations, the ones with the long-term consequences for a young Canadian athlete when choosing either a Canadian or U.S. postsecondary school.
First, which universities will provide academic programs best suited to the athlete’s long-term career path? Athletic careers, even at the highest levels, don’t last forever.
Second, which universities provide experienced and developmental coaching and a team with an acceptable competitive record? For first-year athletes, what does the coach define as success? Is “red shirting” (being on the team but not competing) OK?
Finally, it is for parents to assess as best they can whether this new experience, which may be thousands of kilometres from home either in the U.S. or Canada, will provide a healthy and developmental environment for the next four to five years.
Big decisions that will have long-term consequences need to be made but, as the saying goes, “fortune favours the well-prepared.”
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
© Copyright 2013