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Five football players take legal action against Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University Simon Fraser University - The Canadian Press

Five Simon Fraser University football players filed for an injunction against the school Thursday to reinstate its football program.

The players — quarterback Gideone Kremler, defensive backs Kimo Hiu, Andrew Lirag and Ryan Barthelson and linebacker Dayton Ingenhaag — all stated in a civil claim they aspire "to play competitive or professional football," and it was important to them all that they attend a university where they were able "to play competitive football at a high intercollegiate level. They chose to attend SFU primarily for this reason."

The claim was filed Thursday in B.C. Supreme Court. The players, all of whom have varying amounts of NCAA eligibility remaining, were listed as plaintiffs with Simon Fraser University listed as the defendant.

School president Joy Johnson announced April 4 that Simon Fraser was discontinuing its football program, effective immediately. Johnson added the decision wasn't financially based, rather on the Texas-based Lone Star Conference's announcement it would not renew its football affiliation with Simon Fraser past the 2023 campaign.

The plaintiffs contend they were informed by athletic director Theresa Hanson that the football program was ceasing the same day the school made its announcement. They add no explanation for the decision was given.

The claim listed the damages suffered by the players as a result of the school's decision.

"Not playing football for the year 2023 would severely compromise the career prospects of the Plaintiff Players in competitive football," the claim states. "Further, even if they were able to find a football program to transfer to, their SFU school credits would not transfer on a 1:1 basis, so a transfer would harm their academic interests."

The players seek SFU to "perform the contract in accordance with its terms" for at least the 2023 year.

"No other remedy will adequately compensate the (players) for what they will lose if the 2023 season is cancelled," the claim states. "In the alternative, the (players) are entitled to damages arising from the harms specified above."

There was no immediate comment or statement from the university.

Simon Fraser posted a 1-9 record last year. But in March, the football team promoted Eric Taylor to offensive coordinator and hired Samuel Richard as its special-teams coordinator, indications the team expected to take to the field in 2023.

SFU is the only Canadian school in the NCAA and has had a football team since 1965.

The school's decision has come under fire because the football team had a place to play this season. What's more, Simon Fraser did field a football squad in U Sports, the governing body of Canadian university sport, from 2002 to 2009, posting a 16-47-2 record.

Hurdles exist for an SFU return to U Sports as the organization's bylaws don't allow members to belong to other conferences. SFU reportedly had a conversation with Canada West officials late last month but an application to join doesn't appear to have been made.

Less than a week later, the school announced the cancellation of its football program. Simon Fraser moved to the Lone Star Conference in 2022.

The players state in the claim that in accepting SFU's offer to attend the school, they "relied on the express or implied commitments, promises or representations made by SFU or its representatives, to the effect that the Plaintiff Players would be able to play on the SFU football team in the NCAA for their entire collegiate career, and that SFU was committed to the football program."

The players say the school did not provide reasonable notice before it cancelled the varsity football program.

"SFU did not inform the Plaintiff Players that were was any risk, possibility, or likelihood that SFU would terminate its football program, without reasonable notice, thereby leaving them without the opportunity to play college football at SFU, or at all," the claim states.

Simon Fraser's varsity teams have been competing against NCAA Division II schools south of the border since 2010-11. While the football program ceased, Johnson said SFU will continue to field teams in 18 NCAA Division II sports.

Simon Fraser's football team competed within the Division II Great Northwest Atlantic Conference (GNAC) from 2010 to 2021. Before that, it played in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) from 1965 until 2001.

Since the school's decision, there's been much support for SFU football. CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, CFLPA executive director Brian Ramsay and Football Canada president Jim Mullin have all written letters to Simon Fraser, U Sports and Canada West officials and football coaches condemning the decision and asking that SFU be allowed to continue playing football in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2023.