• By: OLM Staff

CIS Support Falls Short

Two years ago, as a first-year student at Queen’s University, I attended every Gaels home football game – at first with an enthusiastic group of floor-mates, then with a smaller, committed contingent of those friends as the weather suddenly turned dreary. Ontario University Athletics (OUA) football is a funny enterprise, renowned above all at schools with traditional success (Queen’s, Western and McMaster, for example) and shunned at others (including York and Toronto, the latter of whom lost 49 games consecutively in the mid-2000s).

Even at the school with the richest university football heritage in Canada, I was struck by the dichotomy of crowds at Richardson Stadium. The facility was filled nearly to capacity for September games during Frosh Week and Fauxcoming – this was during Queen’s four-year Homecoming hiatus – but comparatively abandoned by the time October rolled around, with dates against dreadful Waterloo and hated Western both drawing a couple thousand fans at best.

Heading into the following week’s home playoff game, I expected the masses to return, given the stakes of the situation. The Gaels were two years removed from a national championship, having played two epic playoff tilts at Richardson in front of gloriously raucous crowds, students occupying every last seat on one side and alumni packing the stands on the other.

So what happened? Official attendance for the late October game was 2,594 – a mere quarter of Richardson Stadium’s capacity, and nowhere near sufficient to properly celebrate Queen’s comeback win. During my early weeks at school, I’d learned the relevant passage of the Oil Thigh and taught to support the Tricolour above all, school spirit being somewhat of an extremist ideology at Queen’s. Midterms and weather aside, I expected more students to devote a few hours to watching the game; there were certainly enough football fans on campus.

Therein, of course, lies the root of the problem: there were enough football fans to fill the stands, but not enough Canadian university football fans – and it’s a crucial difference. My broad experience as part of the latter group (and later, as a student newspaper sports reporter) has generally been one of student apathy. There’s a sentiment of inferiority that pervades Canadian sports, at both the university level and in our meager professional offerings.

This, of course, is the opposite of the United States, home of almost all worthy North American sports franchises and the essentially professional (and corrupt) NCAA. Down south, there are simply better athletic alternatives in nearly every sport: the NFL is king, while other major leagues have only a smattering of Canadian teams at best. Like any rational sports fan, Canadians have generally been taught to appreciate the best. Football, in particular, casts a stern hierarchy, with Canadian universities toiling somewhere near the bottom.

The CIS  (Canadian Interuniversity Sport) and CFL are endearing for their quirkiness, playing with three downs on behemoth fields that dwarf NFL gridirons in width and length. The uniqueness of the Canadian game is attractive to a core group of hardcore devotees, but nowhere near enough to unseat the superior American product. Even at schools with somewhat solid support, the main attraction is the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the fight song – all which still pale in comparison to the NCAA – rather than the game itself.

Now, in late August, another OUA football season is just around the corner. Hopes are high in Kingston and Ottawa alike, with Queen’s poised to contend for the Yates Cup and the Carleton Ravens embarking on the first step of a revival. Whether the students and fans will follow is another matter.