UBC renews its vision for sport and commitment to excellence
There is nothing that has the potential to generate more engagement, pride and spirit than university sports. For student athletes, it represents a path toward personal achievement and excellence — an opportunity to gain strong coaching and training, achieve personal bests while receiving a highly valued degree.
For students, varsity games and elite tournaments are a way to come together and build pride and enjoyment of campus life. They also benefit greatly from the opportunity to participate in many recreational and competitive leagues. In addition to promoting physical activity and health, sports enable students to make friends, learn teamwork and pursue individual goals of excellence.
“Athletics at UBC have a long tradition of success,” says Ashley Howard, managing director of Athletics & Recreation. “We have so much more potential to involve students and alumni in the love of sport, and pride for our university’s storied tradition. I see sport as key to UBC’s global ambitions to be among the best in the world.”
For the community and alumni, it means a chance to stay involved, to give back. They are committed to supporting their school, and the sport they love.
Gerald McGavin graduated from UBC’s Faculty of Commerce in 1960, and has a passion for rugby. Recently, with his wife, he contributed $1M to a new Rugby Centre.
“The UBC rugby teams of the 1950’s were outstanding, leading to the selection of some of us to play for the provincial team against several international touring sides,” says McGavin. “Playing in those matches was a great experience. Since then many UBC players have had similar experiences. In recent years the rugby program appeared to need financial assistance in order to return to those previous levels of excellence. So, about 380 of us committed funds to do something meaningful to help. Increased participation and improved results on the field are already evident.”
What’s the vision for sport at UBC?
There are no shortage of such stories and passionate alumni at UBC. But in recent years, the University has been engaged in a series of soul-searching discussions about the next chapter of excellence.
It began in 2008 when the University started reviewing the implications of applying for membership in the U.S.-based National Collegiate Athletic Association, Division II. Many supported the move, maintaining it would offer student athletes the opportunity to compete at a higher level. Others felt it was wrong to abandon the Canadian university sport program. There was no clear consensus. UBC and its supporters were a community divided. After three years of broad consultation and careful evaluation, UBC made the decision to remain a member of Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Based on comments he received throughout the three-year NCAA review process, President Stephen Toope announced a review of the Department of Athletics & Recreation. While it is a successful program, the department had evolved over time with no long-term strategy or formal evaluation process.
The review was completed in 2012, and led to the creation of a think tank, which developed a new competitive sport model and a review process for varsity teams.
In short, this model aims to create that missing long-term strategy. The goal is to make UBC the number one choice for top-calibre athletes in select sports, to provide the coaching, training and support services that attract the best and brightest student athletes to varsity teams, and provide more opportunities for the entire community to participate in competitive sports.
Not varsity versus wellness
All 29 varsity teams and any club wishing to obtain varsity status will go through the final phase of the sport review. The process is just beginning. The University is currently asking the community for input on the areas critical for sporting excellence at UBC which will provide the framework for assessing teams and placing them in the varsity or competitive club strands of the model. No decisions have been made.
“The teams will be assessed on the weighted criteria our key stakeholders – alumni, student athletes, coaches, partners – have identified as most important” said Louise, Cowin, Vice-President Students said. “There is no hidden agenda and there are no fixed outcomes.”
The sport review is designed to push UBC varsity sport to a new level of excellence. It is not a cost-cutting measure and funds will not be moved around to wellbeing initiatives.
Such reviews are not unique in the world of university sports. In Canada, Queen’s University completed a review in 2008 with the goal of winning more championships. The University of Toronto recently underwent a review and results are expected to be announced this fall.
The future of the Thunderbird
What will the future look like for UBC varsity athletes? There will be more funds available for training, innovation and equipment. Athletes may have access to new services from a nutritionist, a biomechanics specialist and an improved strength-conditioning program. Thunderbirds will benefit from partnerships with key sports organizations at the national, international and professional level. Marketing plans will be implemented so that the stands are full and athletes are cheered on by their campus community.
“The community will be there to support the Thunderbirds because we are going to work on creating the social environment that draws people to the games,” says Howard. “It won’t happen over night. This is a big culture change, but we know that UBC students are seeking opportunities to connect, and sport can deliver if we build on the success delivered through the Development and Athletics & Recreation team approach for this year’s Homecoming and focus our efforts.”
There will also be opportunity for athlete development through partnerships with UBC research and experts. If a team, for example, dreams up a new technology that can measure their performance, UBC Athletics will approach a UBC researcher to develop that idea.
“There will be more cross pollination with the campus. Our teams will be part of the living lab,” says Howard. “Investing in the partnerships to build this sharing will take commitment and funding, but it will enable us to enhance opportunities for those students who have a burning desire to compete at the highest level of competition.”
Making sure everyone has a voice
The process for reviewing each varsity team has just begun. Guided by an advisory group, there are four phases, with opportunity for input, feedback and appeals.
First, criteria to evaluate the teams will be decided on. Next, teams will be asked to submit any necessary information required for assessment. Any teams that clearly demonstrate that they are already on the path for excellence will be notified in the winter of 2014.
Other teams will be invited to come back to the table and develop ideas and solutions for achieving that next level of success. These teams will be asked to do some soul searching. Where do we need to go and how are we going to get there? At this stage, alumni and community supporters will be asked to get involved. Athletics hopes to engage these individuals by taking on a more active role in the future of the sport they love. Final decisions are expected to be made by Spring 2014 and will go into effect September 2015.
For someone who is already engaged in shaping the future of a UBC sport, the review raises questions. “When a process like this comes along, you think ‘how will this affect my feeling about supporting, in this case rugby, at UBC?’” said McGavin. “Long-term programs of any kind should be subject to periodic review. Nobody likes change. This is a lot of change at one time.”
“My concern is about encouraging excellence, that they aren’t going to drag down the top of the pyramid to include more of the bottom,” adds McGavin. “I have been assured that there will be appropriate – if not increased – funding for sports and athletes where achieving excellence has been, and continues to be, possible. I believe rugby is one of those sports!”
Have your voice by visiting the new sport review web site