McMaster football is 5-0 heading into a match-up with No. 3 ranked Western Mustangs. These are the glory days for the Marauder program, where student and alumni have come to expect the team to be in contention for the Yate Cup year in and year out.
These are the glory days, so enjoy them while you can, because it is not built to last.
It is no fault of Mac’s, nor are they alone in their fate. The CIS football scene has become a financial arms race, and only a handful of schools have the firepower to be successful long-term. Laval is the poster program for their privately funded program has upended conventional athletic department spending, but their success has not gone unnoticed. Carleton is right there with them, building a program off the wallet of keen alumni and local fans. Guelph has Stu Lang serving as their head coach and, more importantly, the person signing the majority of cheques that fund the program.
The athletic department knows this, and that is why the 13th man program was launched. The call for collective financial support in the neighbourhood of $200,000 – the number given in the initial release of the campaign – has not been answered. Former athletic director Jeff Giles told the Hamilton Spectator in June that the program is off to a sluggish start.
Other, much less successful programs are already feeling that squeeze. Canada Football Chat, a site dedicated to coverage of the amateur Canadian football scene, reported that three independent sources informed them there is a “strong chance the Waterloo football program will be folding after the 2014 season.” Waterloo athletic director Roly Webster denied the report, but did say “if we can’t justify our investment, I’d say (folding a team) is absolutely a consideration. I’d be lying if I said it’s not.”
The cost to justify investment is increasingly rising, depending on your justification. For Waterloo, a team that is 0-5 with 275 points against and only 21 points for, they may define success by making OUA playoffs. At McMaster, a different standard has been set.
The Marauders are in the race for the Yates with eyes on the Vanier, or the fan base becomes indifferent. Look at last season, where stands were empty after a less-than-stellar start to the season.
CIS football has been a league of haves and have-nots for a long time. As the price competing trends towards million dollar budgets, the list of haves is going the shrink. McMaster is one of the teams who could be switching sides, along with many other perennial powers like Laurier and Queen’s.
Solutions are bleak, too. The CIS could mandate some kind of spending cap, but that would require policing and resources that the governing body does not have. Many CIS infractions are actually self-disclosed, not a independent discovery from the CIS. Queen’s football academic ineligibility, Calgary’s academic ineligibility, Dalhousie’s men’s rugby hazing investigation, Saskatchewan’s doping violation and McGill’s running back domestic violence case were all issues in the month of September. All of them were self-disclosed.
Do not expect Mac to reach the lows of programs like Toronto, York or Waterloo. The coaching staff is too talented for that to happen, and there are only so many roster spots on those other rich programs. But a regression is in the cards unless alumni and corporate sponsors are willing to take out theirs.