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College Football: Canadian Style

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on AmericanChronicle.com, Tuesday, September 9, 2008

College football is incredibly popular in America. Fans will spend their Saturdays in the fall tailgating outside of stadiums and many will ride an emotional roller coaster each week, depending on how their team does on the field.

But Americans are not the only ones who love their college football. They also love the game in Canada. That´s right. Colleges across Canada also have football teams. The schools are governed by Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS), Canada´s equivalent of the NCAA.

There are 27 teams in CIS that play college football, but the game is not played by American rules, it is played by rules similar to those of the professional Canadian Football League (CFL). They have three downs to go 10 yards, a 20-second play clock, 12 players on each side of the ball and the field is 110 yards long with 20-yard end zones.

The college football season in Canada consists of just eight games. The winners of the four regional associations (Atlantic University Sport, Canada West, Ontario University Athletics and the Quebec Student Sport Federation) advance to the playoffs, consisting of the Mitchell Bowl and the Uteck Bowl. The winners of those two games meet in the Vanier Cup championship game. This year, the Vanier Cup will be played on Saturday, November 22 at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton, Ontario, home of the CFL Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The following day, the CFL Grey Cup championship game will be played in Montreal.

In recent years, a few Canadian universities have actually been exploring the possibility of joining the NCAA and competing in NCAA sanctioned sports, including football. One such school is the University of British Columbia, but as of yet, no decision has been made by the NCAA.

I have been to CFL games in both Toronto and Hamilton over the years, but I had never been to a college football game in Canada until this past weekend. As it turns out, a college football team in Canada was much closer to me than either of the two CFL teams that I have traveled to see.

On Saturday, September 6, I left my home in Kalamazoo, Michigan and made the two-hour drive to the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, the gateway to Canada. After crossing the bridge and showing my passport to the Canadian customs agent, I realized that I was just a block away from the University of Windsor Stadium, home to the Windsor Lancers. The school has an enrollment of around 15,000-20,000 students, which is average for the schools in the Ontario University Athletics conference, of which Windsor is a member.

Windsor was hosting the University of Toronto Varsity Blues in a 1 o´clock game. Both teams had 1-0 records, but Toronto has gone through some rather tough times the past several years. They had not won a football game in over six years until they posted an 18-17 win over the Waterloo Warriors the previous week to open the 2008 season. Toronto had lost 49 straight games dating back to the 2001 season, a CIS record.

One thing that I was not prepared for when I arrived at the stadium, however, was the process of paying for parking. In Canada, most parking lots have a self-serve pay booth where you put in your money and a machine prints off a receipt. You place the receipt on your dashboard to show that you have paid to park. At the lot across the street from the stadium, where I was parked, the machine only took quarters (U.S. or Canadian). The cost was $1.25 per hour. Since I was going to be there for at least three hours, the four quarters I had in my pocket was just not enough. So I had to go into the stadium, get change at the concession stand, go back to the parking lot and then pay for my parking. (Note to self: Next time, bring lots of quarters!)

Windsor Stadium was built four years ago, but there had always been problems with the drainage system on the natural grass field. So the school´s alumni association donated $500,000 towards the installation of a Field Turf artificial playing surface this past off season. It is now called Alumni Field at Windsor Stadium. The game against Toronto was the first football game ever played on the new surface, and it is a beautiful field!

Before the game started, I noticed that the flags in the north end of the stadium were at half-staff. Prior to the playing of the Canadian National Anthem, the public address announcer asked everyone to rise and observe a moment of silence in honor of a local soldier, Corporal Andrew Grenon, 23, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan on September 3. I guess college football is not the only thing that the U.S. and Canada have in common these days.

Once the game started, Windsor jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. Toronto finally scored a touchdown with just 15 seconds remaining in the first half to make the score 17-7 at the half. During halftime, a group of Windsor students and the team mascot participated in some kind of dance on the field called the Windsor Wiggle. There was also a performance by the 44 members of the Windsor Optimist Youth Band.

The Lancers put up 10 unanswered points in the third quarter and were up 28-7 in the fourth quarter before Toronto scored its second touchdown of the game. Windsor went on to win 38-14, putting Toronto back in the loss column once again.

The Windsor team features running back Daryl Stephenson who, before the game with Toronto, needed just 236 yards to become the all-time leading rusher in CIS history. The current record is 4,738 yards, which was set by Dominic Zagari of the University of Manitoba Bisons between 1991 and 1995. Stephenson had 123 yards rushing in the game against Toronto and now needs just 113 yards next week to set the record when the Lancers host the Guelph Gryphons in their Homecoming game.

After the game, I made the trip back over the Ambassador Bridge, this time showing my passport to the American customs agent, and headed for home.

I really enjoyed my four-hour stay across the bridge and would not hesitate to make the trip again. The Windsor Lancers are now 2-0 on the season. Perhaps I will get a chance to make a return trip later in the season. Perhaps for a Windsor home playoff game?


University of Windsor Lancers

Canadian Interuniversity Sport

Vanier Cup Web Site


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