Stronger and better equipped

Shawn Olson

UBC Thunderbirds Head Coach Shawn Olson comments on outcome of Stage 1 review process.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds football program is going nowhere.

Earlier this week, the university announced the teams that survived Stage 1 of the sports review process.  Among the 16 teams to retain “varsity” status was the football program.

This past October in a CFC article, Thunderbirds Head Coach Shawn Olson was confident that the football program was going to come out of this process with a favourable result.

“I’m very, very confident that not only is UBC going to have a football program next year and the following year but probably for the next 90 years as it’s the cornerstone of this university’s athletic program,” said Olson back in October.

With the decision rendered this past week, the Thunderbirds Head Coach is thrilled with the outcome.

“As far as football is concerned, we are very excited about the announcement has come out of Stage 1 of UBC’s review process,” commented Olson.  “As I have told people for some time, the football program at UBC will come out of this process much stronger and better equipped to contend nationally then it has since the late 90’s.”

“Our University, alumni and supporters have never been more galvanized around our direction that we are now and I am very excited to putting 100 percent of our efforts towards building a championship program at UBC.”

While it retains its varsity status, the football program knows that there are 13 other teams awaiting their fate after the second assessment in February.

“It has been a tough process for all of our sports at UBC and our thoughts and support now go with the remaining teams still going through the process,” expressed Olson.

Now the Thunderbirds’ focus shifts fully towards the team’s 2014 class.  Despite the cloud of uncertainty and rumours, the team has already been successful thus far in the recruitment process.  For any recruits considering UBC as a future gridiron and academic home, Olson delivered a message to them.

“Despite the efforts of some teams to ‘fear monger’ our future, we are off to a fantastic start in the 2014 recruiting season,” commented Olson.  “We are still looking to fill a number of spots of players looking for a world class education, an amazing university experience in one of the top cities in the world and who are looking to build a championship caliber program.”

“It is a very unique opportunity out here on the West Coast that is exciting to a lot of intelligent and hardworking young football players.”



The University of British Columbia announced the stage one results of its sport review, with 16 of the current 29 varsity teams securing their status for the coming years. At the end of February following a second stage assessment, a number of other teams are expected to be added. No team has been excluded after stage one.

“Overall, advisory assessment team members were consistent in their evaluations and we are basing our decision on their findings,” said Vice President, Student Louise Cowin. “The process has been revealing and is leading us to boost financial support for the teams.”

Cowin said as of April 2014, the university will direct an additional $500,000 to varsity athletics and $300,000 to the Department of Athletics and Recreation.  The total $800,000 annual increase includes a $300,000 contribution to the Millennium Scholarship Breakfast, announced last November.

The teams to secure varsity status after stage one include men’s and women’s basketball, swimming and rowing, as well as women’s volleyball (full list below).

“These 16 teams balance men and women’s, as well as individual and team sports,” said Ashley Howard, managing director of Athletics and Recreation. ” The review showed us their strengths but also provides us with a roadmap to needed improvements.”

The remaining 13 varsity teams and some interested Alma Mater Society sports clubs have been invited to the second stage assessment, to conclude in late February.

“Another month of uncertainty will be difficult for many,” said Howard. “But we need to keep our eye on the prize: higher achievement for our varsity teams, a top-notch experience for our student athletes and a sustainable future for the UBC Thunderbirds.”


Team sports

Basketball                   Men, Women

Field Hockey              Women

Football                       Men

Ice Hockey                  Women

Rugby                         Men

Soccer                         Men

Volleyball                    Women


Individual sports

Cross Country             Men, Women

Rowing                       Men, Women

Swimming                   Men, Women

Track and Field           Men, Women



  • Total additional funding: $800K
  • Varsity budget increase: $200K (to $6.4M)
  • Millennium Scholarship Breakfast: $300K
  • Athletics and Recreation Department budget increase (overall operations and services): $300K




Why did UBC undertake the sport review?

The goals of the sport review are to protect the long-term sustainability of the Athletic and Recreation Department (Vancouver campus) programs; to sharpen the focus on elite high performance sport development through partnerships with other key sport organizations and by better leveraging UBC research expertise; to expand and enhance opportunities for a greater number of UBC students to participate in competitive sport; and to align the objectives of UBC Athletics and Recreation with the university’s strategic commitments to student learning.


What led to the sport review?

The review was initiated in 2012 after the decision was made not to seek NCAA membership and instead remain within the Canadian Interuniversity Sport system. A think tank was formed to develop a new Sport Model concept, which led to the present sport review.


Sport review process

The sport review evaluates UBC’s 29 varsity teams and interested AMS club teams for consideration in the two high-performance strands of the new competitive sport model: varsity sports and competitive clubs. Team performance is assessed in five broad areas:  competitive success, supports for competitive success, community support and tradition, partnerships, and fit with the university mission.


Stage one of the sport review

UBC finalized the criteria for assessing teams for varsity status on December 9, 2013. The Stage one assessment was based on data and information provided by the Department of Athletics and Recreation and coaches or student leaders to an independent advisory assessment group, chaired by the department’s managing director. The group’s deliberations were incorporated in the managing director’ recommendations, and the final decision was made by the Vice President, Students.


Stage two of the sport review

UBC’s remaining 13 varsity teams and a number of AMS clubs are now invited to consider Stage one feedback from the assessment team and proceed to a second stage of the review process. Teams will work with the department, alumni, and community supporters on plans that will be submitted to the advisory assessment team in early February. The Managing Director of Athletics will consider the assessment team recommendations, and the final decision will be made by the Vice President, Students at the end of February. All changes go into effect in September 2015.


Advisory assessment team

An advisory assessment team was assembled to review the current varsity teams and interested AMS clubs, and to put forward its findings to the managing director of Athletics and Recreation. The advisory assessment team consists of:

  • Three alumni
  • Two students
  • One recently graduated student-athlete
  • One faculty member
  • One high performance sport representative
  • Two representatives from the Dept. of Athletics and Recreation


What happens next?

The current UBC Thunderbird varsity squads stay in place for the remaining academic year and through the 2014 – 2015 academic year. Implementation of the new sport model, with the confirmed varsity teams and new competitive clubs, will start in September 2015. UBC will honour all student athletes’ scholarships for the duration of their time at UBC, irrespective of the final status of their sport.

For complete information on the sport review, visit:





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