By Chris Babic
The Canadian recruiting landscape for student athletes is as varied as the country is wide.
It is a vast field of seemingly always evolving guidelines and processes as universities search for creative ways to attract top athletic talent.
Like other universities, Ryerson takes part in a long recruiting process, as they try to haul in some of the best student-athletes in Canada.
Ryerson has burst onto the CIS recruiting scene in recent years, thanks in large part to two high profile acquisitions.
The first is Athletics Director Ivan Joseph, who joined Ryerson in 2008 after spending time coaching in the United States. Joseph has brough a championship pedigree to the Rams, a signficant factor in convincing young athletes to bring their talents to Ryerson Athletics.
Then there is the Mattamy Athletic Centre, a top-notch athletic facility that also contains loads of Toronto sports history as the former home of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
To be a major player means the university needs major talent, and that means Ryerson’s coaches have a lot of ground to cover each year in trying to sign the best student athletes in Canada.
Money notwithstanding, there are some serious challenges to the Canadian recruiting process.
For starters, there is a lot of land to cover. Canada is big, and while there are regional powerhouses in each sport that coaches can look to for regular talent, finding that hidden gem of a player can prove tough if he/she plays at some high school in say, Boyle, Alberta, population 3000.
Secondly, some of the best Canadian talent opts to go south to the NCAA for their college careers, leading to a ‘brain drain’ of sorts. It can happen even at the high school level, where Canadians might join American prep schools instead of competing in their native Canada.
Of course, Canadians flying south has always been a factor, but in recent years the push to raise the standard of play in the CIS has resulted in a turning tide, as more Canadian student athletes are choosing to stay in Canada.
Commitments and scholarships
Much like the NCAA, student athletes in the CIS can sign a letter of intent, which states that the student athlete has committed to attend, and compete for, a particular school.
Letters of intent are not mandatory for a student athlete to play a CIS sport; however, it is a voluntary system that all CIS schools respect.
If a student athlete signs a letter of intent with a particular school, other universities know to focus their recruitment efforts elsewhere.
According to the CIS database, there are currently 562 student athletes that have signed letters of intent for the 2014-15 season.
Whether or not athletes sign a letter of intent, student athletes can still receive athletic scholarships from CIS schools.
In Ontario, the minimum scholarship award is $500, while the maximum is $4000. These scholarships are only allowed to cover tuition and cost of board, not things like textbooks and meal plans.
One method Ryerson employs for finding new athletic talent is having students apply to Ryerson Athletics, through a recruiting questionnaire, to the team they are interested in.
Its main advantage is that student athletes from far-flung corners of small-town Canada can make themselves known to Ryerson’s coaching staff, allowing the coaches to focus on the more well-known talent hotbeds.
The largest area of Canadian university talent is of course southern Ontario, and with Ryerson located in the heart of downtown Toronto, the appeal to top homegrown (Torontonian) talent has seen Ryerson nab some strong recruits from its own backyard.
Ryerson is on the upswing, riding a wave of increasing standards in the CIS, and the Rams’ experienced coaching staffs have collectively ushered in new recruiting classes each year that are arguably better than its last.
Canada’s recruiting landscape may be huge, but for a once small polytechnic institute, Ryerson is grabbing a big piece of the pie.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 9, 2014.