“One of the big debates is should the program be part of student services, should it be part of the College of Kinesiology or do you move to this outside partnership to run it?” said Dogs head coach Brian Towriss. “There’s probably four or five guys that would partner and be part of an ownership group but right now I don’t think that’s part of anybody’s [agenda].
“It’s something that’s probably been tossed around but never seriously been sat down and discussed,” he added, but “I think the university wants to maintain control.”
The Huskies’ athletic director Basil Hughton echoed this statement.
“The model that we operate under works well.”
The Huskies football team is controlled by Huskie Athletics but relies heavily on donor support. Huskie Athletics is a part of the College of Kinesiology and is a representative of the entire university. This system does not allow the team to have an individual owner.
One of the only teams in Canadian Interuniversity Sport that follows a private-based form of ownership is the Laval Rouge et Or, who have won five of the last eight Vanier Cups.
According to the Queen’s University student newspaper, The Queen’s Journal, “The Rouge et Or have the highest operating budget in Canadian University Sport” because their “13 varsity teams are treated as individual clubs that operate as autonomous units within the Athletics framework.
“Though the 13 clubs have a combined operating budget of about $5 million, only $500,000 comes from the Athletics department. Each club has its own president, board of directors and head of fundraising to seek out private sponsorship.”
Local businessman David Dube recently told Bridges, a weekly Saskatoon newspaper, that if the Huskies football team “was a business I would buy it in a second.”
He is one of the team’s top supporters and his donations, valuing over $1 million, have made Huskies’ home games the most electrifying in the team’s history and help draw in record crowds. These donations include the new stands at Griffiths Stadium, the equipment in the weight room of the team’s new clubhouse and the fireworks at every home game.
Some believe, however, that Dube’s involvement with the team’s game day operations — which have included public statements on behalf of the team — have overstepped the boundaries of a sponsor and have perplexed the issue of who exactly represents the football team and the university.
Dube was unavailable to comment for this article.
At the Dogs’ home opening game this season, Dube organized what was termed the “Support Our Troops” game. The team welcomed Canadian Forces members to attend the game, thanking them for their service to the country by raising money for the Soldier On Fund — a fund that provides grants to injured or ill CF members in order to assist in their rehabilitation.
The players wore specially designed jerseys that featured camouflage trim and nameplates that replaced the players’ names in favour of words associated with the ethos of the Canadian Forces: duty, integrity, courage, honour, loyalty, country and service.
Along with this, the forces displayed military equipment at the stadium gates.
Some in the university community had a problem with this display.
“Honouring veterans is well-meaning, but the problem is that politics should not get mixed into sports,” said Robert Calder, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Saskatchewan who attends every Huskies’ football home game.
Calder is the author of Saskatchewan Roughriders: a first 100 years as well as a book about British writers in World War II propaganda. He was worried about the message sent by the display of weaponry at a football game.
“Canadians generally don’t know what kind of sacrifices soldiers make and people need to be reminded of that, but that is not parading around military hardware” at a football game.
Even the Huskies director was not happy to see the military equipment.
“I was all for the support, thanking and recognition of the people, but I would have wished that we didn’t have a gun outside the entrance,” said Hughton.
He clarified, however, that despite his opinion, Huskie Athletics and Dube were not making statements on behalf of the university, its athletes or its students.
“That’s a personal opinion. That’s not [me] representing Huskie Athletics,” he said. “I would not even begin to suggest that we are speaking on behalf of the university or all Huskie Athletics’ team members. We’re not speaking on behalf of anyone.”
This is where opinions within the university differ.
“Huskie Athletics represent an entire institution with plenty of diverse opinions on the matter,” said Univeristy of Saskatchewan Students’ Union president Scott Hitchings. “Some people are not offended with the pro-military stance in and of itself, but when it is unnecessarily mixed with Huskie Athletics, it can become offensive to people who otherwise wouldn’t be offended.”
Regardless of whether the game’s display was right or wrong and if politics should or should not be mixed with sport, however, it showed that Dube has the ability to make statements on behalf of the team.
When asked whether or not Dube takes too active a role in terms of how his donations are spent — especially in comparison to the football team’s other significant donor, Ron Graham, who is much less visible — Hughton replied, “I can see where that would be the perception and I think in some ways that’s true, but people are different and have different passions and investments in their donations.”
Graham’s approximate $4 million worth of donations built the Huskies clubhouse and paid for the recent clubhouse expansion.
Hughton said that without either of the donors, Huskie Athletics would not be as strong as it is today.
“The biggest thing, bar none, is the scholarships [from donors or contributed to by donors] that allow us the opportunity to give athletic awards to our athletes, that allow us to recruit good student-athletes and that allows us to compete at a very high level in the Canada West” and in Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Dube, a local businessman and philanthropist who contributes to many of the school’s athletics scholarships and also donates significantly to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine and the Nature Conservancy of Saskatchewan, was a receiver for the Huskies from 1982 to 1986.
Towriss is very thankful for Dube’s contributions to the team.
“We can’t thank him enough for everything that he’s done… People love coming here on Friday nights and he’s made it really great for our players,” said Towriss.
He added that Dube is a major reason why the Huskies are one of the few teams, along with Laval, who successfully market themselves.
“One thing that Laval’s done more than anybody else is that they’ve proved that Canadian college football is marketable. They’re getting 14 to 16 thousand fans per game,” said the coach. “We’re getting close. We’re probably averaging 6,500 fans this year… [and] part of it is the game day operations that David’s pushed forward. I’m sure that’s helping to drive our crowds.”
Dube has his own brand of Huskies’ football clothing that he sells separately from Huskie Athletics clothing. Merchandise with the “S” logo that the team occasionally wears and the alternative “U of S” logo featuring a sideways-facing Husky baring its teeth are sold by Dube. They are not available at Huskie Athletics’ stores.
“He thinks [the team] can be profitable,” said Towriss, emphasizing that despite this, Dube only has good intentions with the merchandise. “All the profits come back into our team.”
Hughton confirmed that Dube has never done anything to infringe upon the athletic program’s best interest.
“We run an athletic program that is 15 teams strong but we can’t do it without our donor support. All of the sports have individual donors. It just so happens that this particular donor is far more public.”
Photos: Raisa Pezderic