Three years ago, the University of Saskatchewan announced a new organizational model for Huskies Athletics.
At the announcement, President Peter Stoicheff admitted that the organization does not operate at a profit. The experiment, as he called it, marked a shift in priorities to increase community and corporate engagement with the hopes of earning more funding that can be used to support student athletes.
“What was on the table in Saskatchewan with the Huskies, in my mind, might be the biggest lost opportunity in university athletics in English Canada,” President of Football Canada Jim Mullin told the Sheaf in an exclusive interview. “It may be the biggest loss since I’ve been in this business [for] over 30 years.”
A dozen executives sat on this advisory board. Six of them, including Stoicheff, are U of S representatives while the other half are community leaders.
The U of S representatives consisted of high-ranking employees of the university such as Dean of Kinesiology Chad London.
The community members, all of whom are U of S alumni, brought forth impressive résumés to the table:
– David Dube, a prominent donor to Huskie Athletics, is president and chairman of SBX Group, a sports marketing agency that recently signed the third overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Canadian RJ Barrett.
– Diane Jones Konihowski is a three-time Olympic athlete and Order of Canada member.
– David Sutherland is the chairman of United States Steel, a Fortune 500 company that earned over $14 billion in revenue last year.
– Tom Anselmi is an experienced sports business executive and the current COO for the Edmonton Oilers Entertainment Group.
– Ken Juba co-founded of one of the province’s largest marketing and communication companies.
– Shelley Brown, one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women as named by KPMG, is an Order of Canada member and current chair of the U of S Board of Governors.
All board members reported to the president who had final veto ability on any decision or recommendation. This might have caused some dysfunction on the board.
Brown, the only community representative which held another position with the university, was the only board member that did not resign.
Following the resignations, Stoicheff noted that the university cannot have one of their employees report to a group of people who are volunteers. He is referring to the relationship between the Huskie chief athletics officer and the community members.
“I think they wanted to have even more influence than an advisory board, and that’s not what this is. It’s not a management board,” said Stoicheff in an article from The Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
Dube is one of the biggest donors in U of S history. He personally recruited the other community members and was the most vocal following their resignations.
Dube says that there’s a structural resistance to change within the university. He claimed that strategic recommendations were dismissed due to a lack of co-operation and willingness to do what’s best for the Huskies.
Many with a stake in university athletics were disappointed to learn of this mass resignation, including Mullin who said, “I don’t know how a university looks to a board of trustees and treats them like a high school student government.”
Mullin was not shocked to hear of the news and pointed to politics on campus that causes hypocrisy between academics and athletics inside Canadian universities.
“There is a cultural disconnect between academics and athletics in this country with the exception of very few places,” said Mullin. “Universities generally want to venture into new frontiers and grow knowledge academically, why is that same desire not directed towards growing sport?”
The board will continue to operate as Stoicheff searches to fill the five empty seats, though the qualifications of the former members has set high expectations.
“To have that group commit and focus on Huskie Athletics was a gift to their alma mater and the community. They wanted to make both a better place,” said Mullin.
“People should be demanding answers about how this happened.”
Tanner Michalenko/ Sports & Health Editor
Photo supplied by Huskie Athletics/ GetMyPhoto.ca