If you’re like us, and you attended a Canadian university, you probably watch U.S. college football with a mixture of bemusement and envy—bemusement because you can’t quite fathom how a hundred thousand people could turn up to watch collegiate athletes, envy because you wish you could’ve had that experience at your school. This past Friday, for instance, over 90,000 fans packed Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana to watch the Arkansas Razorbacks knock off the top-ranked LSU Tigers. The sense of occasion was palpable from thousands of miles away.
Only 26,787 turned up for Friday’s Vanier Cup at the Rogers Centre. (By comparison, exactly seventy fewer people were in the stadium for last year’s International Bowl, a relatively meaningless NCAA bowl game involving two nondescript football programs.) Yet staging Canadian university football’s championship game during Grey Cup weekend for the first time in almost twenty-five years was a positive development. Manitoba’s 28-14 win over St. Mary’s wasn’t a classic, but we suspect it gave much-needed exposure to a sport (not to mention a group of athletes) which Canadians tend to ignore. It’s unfortunate, since Canadian university football is actually pretty exciting, a slightly scrappier variation of the Canadian brand of football being showcased at this very moment. We as Canadians don’t get too worked up over amateur athletics. We’ll get excited about world junior hockey, but otherwise we simply haven’t been conditioned to embrace university sports the way our southern neighbours have. This, in turn, speaks to some cultural differences between Canada and the United States—not to mention an unhealthy obsession with sports which occasionally taints a fair number of American schools.
We’re not suggesting the Canadian approach is better—just different, and that it’s nice to see a group of Canadian athletes getting a bit of recognition. (It’s also ironic that Toronto got to host Canadian university football’s showcase event, since the GTA features the undisputed worst football team in the country—that’d be the Varsity Blues, who’ve lost forty-nine consecutive games and counting—and another, the York Lions, who could make a strong case for being the second-worst.) Next year’s Vanier Cup is scheduled to be played at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, with the Grey Cup slated for Montreal. Here’s hoping they bring the two games together again in 2009: ultimately, it can only offer positive benefits for Canadian university sport in general.
Photo by sjgardiner.