While approximately 15 percent of Yale College students are members of varsity athletic teams, that statistic is much higher for Canadian undergrads: Forty percent of Canadian students at Yale are varsity athletes.
Yale’s peer institutions show a similar trend: at Harvard, 30 percent of Canadian college students compete at the varsity level, and a whopping 60 percent of Dartmouth’s Canadians are on a varsity roster. But, like Yale, only 20 percent of both schools’ student bodies is on a varsity team.
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Not surprisingly, the majority of Canadian athletes at Yale play on the hockey teams, but they are also active in other varsity sports, including crew, lacrosse, track and field, and fencing.
While 16 Canadian Elis interviewed said most high schoolers in Canada stay there for university, they added that it is highly desirable for Canadian athletes to come to the United States and compete in the NCAA, which offers a higher level of competition than Canada provides at the collegiate level.
“As a Canadian athlete, coming to the States for school is kind of spoken of as inevitable,” track and field thrower Stefan Palios ’14 said. “It was just always thought of as the thing good athletes did.”
NOT THE NORM
In a high school class of 240, Palios, a native of Grimsby, Ontario, was one
of two recruited student-athletes who came to the United States for college and one of only four graduates who left the province. Similarly, women’s hockey player Heather Grant ’12 was one of three students — all recruited varsity athletes — from her approximately 250-student graduating class to leave Toronto, Ontario, for the United States.
Although Eric Chen ’15, from Ottawa, Ontario, does not play on a varsity team, he said he was the only student in his high school class of approximately 200 to migrate south for his post-secondary education. He added that the two other current Yale freshmen from Ottawa are both varsity athletes.
According to Chen, most Canadian students do not even apply to U.S. colleges because they are unfamiliar with the extensive application process and the variety of post-secondary options available.
“We don’t write SATs or personal essays in Canada, so it’s seen as a bit of a hassle,” Chen said. “Also, [American universities] generally don’t come to recruit students or promote American colleges in Canadian high schools.”
Anna Moore ’13, a native of Toronto, Ontario, said that most Canadian high school students do not start university applications until halfway through their senior years, at which point it is too late to apply to American colleges.
“It can be overwhelming,” Moore said. “In the U.S., there is an industry of trying to get people into college — application companies and test prep. That doesn’t exist in Canada.”
She added that tuition rates in Canada are much lower — the University of Toronto’s is around $5,000 — which provides further incentive for students to remain in Canada.
However, for high-level Canadian athletes, it is a different story.
“I never really considered going to a Canadian university,” said Jen Matichuk ’13, a hockey player from St. Albert, Alberta. “There just isn’t as much focus on athletics. The NCAA is more prestigious, and it’s the highest level of women’s hockey.”
PERKS OF THE NCAA
Canada’s version of the NCAA is Canadian Interuniversity Sport, which governs collegiate athletics in Canada and includes the majority (54) of the country’s degree-granting universities.
But in the eyes of both Canadian athletes and administrators at the high school and collegiate levels, CIS does not begin to compete with its American counterpart.
Michael Belanger, the manager of communication and media relations at the CIS National Office in Ottawa, Ontario, said that comparing CIS to the NCAA is like “comparing apples to oranges” because the NCAA is much bigger in terms of profile, funding and marketing.
“I think it stems from a difference in philosophy,” Belanger said of the cross-border discrepancy. “In the U.S., college and high school sports are in people’s DNA and they stay attached to their alma mater. When you meet someone from the U.S., one of the first things they say is which college they went to and who their team is. [In Canada], the philosophy is that university is first and foremost an academic institution.”
Ken Weipert, principal of the National Sport School in Calgary, Alberta., a high school which aims to help high-level Canadian student-athletes balance training and competition with academics, said that since there are more athletes in the NCAA than in the CIS, there is more competition between teams. As a result, he said, the standards of performance are higher in the NCAA.
For many Canadian athletes, funding is a primary motivation to move south, Belanger said. While CIS schools do offer sports scholarships, they are not considered “free rides” like they are at many schools in the U.S. and usually only cover a part of the tuition, he added.
“No one is going to dispute that the level of play is higher as a whole in the U.S.,” Belanger said. He added that there is higher pressure to perform at American colleges, particularly for athletes on scholarship, and that some Canadian athletes return to Canada because they do not want to devote all their energy to athletics.
Schools in the Ivy League do not offer athletic scholarships, but student-athletes can still receive monetary support through financial aid. In contrast, Palios said maximum support for student-athletes in Canada is usually a $1000 to $3000 bursary. He added that since both university admissions and scholarships are contingent on academics, Canadian athletes cannot rely on brawn over brains to gain admission.
“Competing in the NCAA is like the track and field version of going pro,” Palios said, adding that it offers greater opportunities and prominence in the athletic world.
With the smaller emphasis on collegiate athletics, Palios said there is no athletic recruiting culture in Canada.
Genny Ladiges ’12, a goaltender on the women’s hockey team from Almonte, Ontario, said that Yale began recruiting her in the 10th grade. At a Canadian school, she would have first needed to gain admission to the university, then try out for the women’s hockey team.
“It’s nice to be wanted and to be recruited,” Ladiges said. “American scouts actually come to Canada and watch us, so we don’t even have to go to the States for tournaments.”
Hockey player Antoine Laganiere ’13, who hails from Ile Cadieaux, Que., agreed, adding that in Canada, he had to initiate contact with university athletics programs, but in the US, “they reach out to you.”
Men’s hockey head coach Keith Allain ’80 said that he looks to Canada for athletes because of the strong hockey culture and interest among Canadian athletes in both hockey and academics. He added that he regularly scouts two junior leagues in Canada.
“Yale’s admission standards are as rigid for Canadian athletes as they are for others, and for us the process of recruiting Canadians is really no different from recruiting Americans,” Allain said in an email to the News. “We are looking for the best and the brightest, and we work very hard to ensure they take a good look at Yale.”
Women’s hockey assistant coach Eddie Ardito agreed, but added that when recruiting in Canada he has to explain the Ivy League and Yale’s financial aid policies.
In addition to financial aid for individual student-athletes, seven Canadian athletes interviewed said that the amount of funding put into American college athletics programs is much greater than in Canada.
“They put more money into sports here,” Ladiges said. “The facilities are better, and they buy full equipment for us here, which not usually the case in Canada.”
Weipert said the Canadian Olympic training program offers decent funding for athletes, but most Olympic athletes are in their mid-20s, leaving a gap for Canadian athletes after high school.
Palios, who was recruited by several American colleges, said that one of the reasons why he chose to come to Yale was, ironically, that it does not offer scholarships.
“I liked that Yale wanted me for something other than being a thrower, that I wasn’t being bought through a scholarship like at other big American universities,” Palios said. “I’ve found most Canadian athletes in the States are really smart because, growing up, they know they cannot rely on athletic ability to be recruited.”
Ten Canadians interviewed said that although they regard Canadian universities as good schools, the Ivy League offers a higher level of prestige and a different college experience, with greater opportunities to network and meet people from around the world.
Palios and Laganiere added that they wanted to go to a smaller school, but Canada’s top universities such as McGill and the University of Toronto have upwards of 25,000 undergraduates.
“I couldn’t fathom going to a school that was larger than my town,” Palios said.
Laganiere said that American colleges do a better job of combining school and sports, adding that in Canada, top-level hockey players generally make the Junior team, a national top-tier under-20 team, and take time off of school after high school.
“I thought of joining the Junior team in Canada, hoping to go pro within three years, but honestly, the odds are against me,” Laganiere said. “I think only 1 percent or so of hopefuls are successful, and I wanted to continue my education.”
Eighteen of the 26 Canadian student-athletes at Yale are on the men’s or women’s hockey teams.