A group of Simon Fraser University football players have filed a lawsuit against the school demanding it reinstate its football program.
The five players have also filed an injunction application seeking to force the school to keep the program active next season.
Quarterback Gideone Kremler, defensive backs Kimo Hiu, Andrew Lirag and Ryan Barthelson and linebacker Dayton Ingenhaag are listed as plaintiffs in the suit.
The players allege that the university has breached its contract with them in regards to scholarship obligations.
The claim was filed in B.C. Supreme Court Thursday. It follows an announcement by university president Joy Johnson on April 4 that the program would be discontinued, effective immediately.
The school pledged to honour athletic scholarship commitments for players who chose to stick with the school despite the program being scrapped.
“Three guys on the team they signed a lease for their house for the whole year and a week later, they’re told they have no season, so they can’t really just stay here for summer doing nothing so they had to beg to get their lease up so, it sucks,” Barthelson said at a press conference with the SFU Football Alumni Society and Football Canada outside the Vancouver courthouse.
The university issued a statement saying it was aware of the injunction application and that it was reviewing and considering next steps.
“I have never seen a process like this happen in 30 years with zero consultation with the stakeholders, whether that’s players, coaches or alumni. But the thing with bad decisions is you can always walk them back,“ Football Canada president Jim Mullen said.
The legal team that is working with Football Canada, the SFU Football Alumni Society and current players consists of SFU alumni as well.
“The claim is a safety valve, and we hope that we won’t need to appear in court for the injunction. We hope the university realizes the consequences of its decision and that it will be able to resolve this so the team can play as planned in the upcoming season,” Vancouver lawyer Peter Gall said.
“The claim is a breach of contract claim. These players all came to SFU based on promises and commitments from SFU’s athletic department that they would play football and get a great education — that is why they are here,” Gall added.
“And with very little notice their chances to go play elsewhere and play at the same level and get the same level of education is remote. We say that is a breach of their contract rights.”
Gall said the group’s filed interim injunction is to “preserve the status quo.”
“We say the balance of convenience clearly favours the granting of an injunction. We have significant harm to the players, there aspirations to play football and their academic aspirations,” Gall said.
The decision to terminate the program has spurred action and sharp words from the Canadian football world, especially among people that have connections to the program.
“I don’t know if you could pick a worse time (to make this decision),” said Dino Geremia, a former coach at SFU for 17 years.
“They actually had the players go through spring camp and waited until that camp was over to make this announcement — it is completely stealing away any opportunities that the players might have had to transfer to another university.”
SFU football was supposed to play its season in the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference this year. The NCAA conference decided to not renew its contract with the Canadian school for the 2024 season.
The school said it terminated the football program due to not having a league to play in after the 2023 season, and that it had exhausted all options.
SFU appears not to have submitted an application to join U Sports, the governing body for Canadian university athletics.
SFU played in U Sports between 2002 and 2009, however the organization’s rules don’t allow members to play in multiple conferences. SFU is the only Canadian university to participate in the NCAA, and its other athletic teams remain members of the U.S.-based post-secondary athletics organization.
Supporters of the program have accused the university of not being transparent with the decision and of making contradictory statements.
“The school said they made the decision for the players? There was a season to be played and there was a team that was ready to play,” said Mark Bailey, SFU Football Alumni Society’s president.
“The university has said it’s not financial, but other than that I don’t know what it would be. This is the most bothersome because these student-athletes… it takes a lot of sacrifice. Those students and their parents have not been really told why.”
The alumni group has also posted a petition online, garnering signatures to support their work to halt the cancellation of the upcoming season and the program.
CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie wrote a letter of endorsement for SFU, saying U Sports and Canada West should allow the program to play in Canada.
“I am writing to seek your support for facilitating the continuation of that program by allowing it to return to Canada West and U Sports competition,” Ambrosie wrote.
“Of course, it is well understood that the discontinuation of the Simon Fraser football program impacts student-athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, fans, and others within the university community who have put so much effort and passion into that program.”
The B.C. Secondary Schools Football Association has also written to SFU over the program cancellation.
“SFU football is a vital component of the football community in B.C.,” said Conrad Degau, the association’s vice president.
“SFU provides a place where (B.C. students) can attend university and play football close to their homes and families. It is an incubator for many leaders in our community, through business, media, politics and school teachers,” he added.
“I urge you to not deny current and future students that opportunity.”
Members of the alumni say dialogue has taken place with the university in recent days, and that there are plans to meet next week with the hope of a reinstatement. If that doesn’t happen, they’re expected to head back to court May 3 for the interim injunction.
None of the claims have been proven in court.
— with files from the Canadian Press