The RSU said its decision to host a homecoming game at BMO Field, featuring the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts, rather than a Ryerson Rams team, was made to connect the university to the larger city of Toronto. (Aidan Lising/Ryersonian)

On Oct. 12, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) hosted a homecoming game at BMO Field in partnership with the Toronto Argonauts.

The decision to feature the Argonauts instead of a Ryerson team was met with widespread criticism from the Ryerson community, including students and alumni who said the move was “dismissive” of Ryerson’s teams.

In a Twitter post, Ryerson’s former director of athletics, Ivan Joseph, called the move “suspicious.”  

However, the RSU had a different vision for the event and what it could represent.

“This event [went] beyond the homecoming…” said Edmund Sofo, the RSU’s vice-president of student life and events. “It [was] Ryerson University connecting to Toronto.”

According to Sofo, while the idea behind the game started with school spirit, it quickly developed into something more, thanks to a partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE).

“One of the things we wanted to look at was the bigger picture,” he said. “MLSE is a huge organization — how could this collaboration trickle into everything else?”

MLSE is one of the largest sports and entertainment companies in North America. An influential industry heavyweight, the company  owns some of Toronto’s biggest teams, including the Raptors, Maple Leafs, TFC and Argonauts.

The idea behind the collaboration started when Ryerson alum and MLSE account executive Syed Abbas reached out to the RSU to host a joint event.

Savreen Gosal, the RSU’s vice-president of operations, said the collaboration would advance Ryerson’s position and reputation citywide. Ryerson is the only Toronto-based university without a football team – the sport traditionally featured in university homecoming games.  Gosal said the partnership with MLSE would serve as a platform for the school, as well as a way to foster school spirit.

“We really wanted to showcase what Ryerson is capable of,” she said. “Partnering up with MLSE, which is one of the biggest sports and entertainment corporations in the world, really showcases Ryerson on a greater scale.”

Before the game, the RSU held a pre-party at the Stanley Barracks, the Argonaus’ official pre-party location. The halftime show featured the MLSE sponsored “kick for tuition,” where students participate in a challenge to win two cash prizes of $12,250 each to cover tuition. Eggy, the school’s mascot, and the Dance Pak were also featured during the game.

Despite the controversy, students and alumni still showed up. According to Sofo, the RSU sold out all 2,500 tickets they had available, forcing them to increase capacity. While the RSU considers the event a success and hopes to repeat it in the future, Sofo said that communication, notably with Ryerson’s athletics department, is something they’ll have to work on.

“Building off the lessons we learned in our inaugural year, [we have to make] sure that communication is better so that the stakeholders are notified . . . and involved from the get go,” he said.

Despite the RSU acknowledging its shortcomings, the exclusion of Ryerson teams from the homecoming game still doesn’t sit well with many.

“I think they were trying to do what they thought was best in terms of garnering some school spirit from the university,” said Jeff Giles, Ryerson’s interim director of athletics. “I think they meant well but it’s not something that makes a lot of sense.”

Giles said that while the RSU approached the athletics department, they didn’t present the event as a homecoming, but rather as “Ryerson night at one of the Argonauts game.”

“The first we heard that this was actually going to be promoted as a homecoming was when everybody else found out,” said Giles.

While Ryerson historically doesn’t have a homecoming game, the annual Alumni Weekend features several events, including a hockey game.

Last season, the men’s hockey team hosted a winter homecoming game, dubbed “Woco,” in which they faced off against the York University Lions at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (MAC).

Giles said the athletics department would have worked with the RSU to create a homecoming game featuring a Rams team. Nevertheless, Giles said that the athletics department would welcome future collaborations with the RSU.

“If the RSU had said to us, ‘we want to promote this as a homecoming event,’ we certainly would’ve had a different response, [which would be to suggest] a homecoming here, with us,” he said.

Many student athletes agree with Giles, including Taylor Dupuis, a goalie on the men’s hockey team, who tweeted his dismay towards the RSU for turning its back on more than 100 student athletes.

Student athletes like Taylor Dupuis, fourth-year goalie for the Rams men’s hockey team, took to Twitter to express their frustration with the RSU. (@Dupuis60/Twitter)

While Dupuis said he understands that homecomings traditionally feature football teams, he says this could’ve been an opportunity for the school to stand out.

“We’re a unique school,” he said in an interview. “I just don’t know why they wouldn’t want to do something with Ryerson athletics that would get the students involved with us and let us promote our sports.”

And it’s not like Rams teams weren’t active that weekend. Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams played home games at Downsview park on Oct. 13. The next day, the women’s hockey team held its conference home opener at the MAC.

Dupuis says he thinks featuring a Rams team would make homecoming better for everybody involved.

“And I can tell you from playing [at the MAC], when a lot of students are here, it’s loud. It’s fun . . .  we play harder and it’s just a better experience for the students and for the athletes as well,” he said. “If we’re able to do a winter homecoming and have success with that, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to do to do a fall homecoming in the same style.”

Alexandria Jones, a fourth-year fashion design student who went to both the men’s hockey home opener and the Argonauts game, echoed Dupuis’s sentiments.

“It definitely felt like more of an Argonauts game,” she said, noting that most of the Ryerson representation was limited to the Stanley Barracks. “You could tell that Ryerson was [well-represented] at the pre-game, but actually going inside the game, there wasn’t much more than that.

“The home opener for hockey was a lot more [representative] of the school spirit,” she said.

That, in addition to the rain and cold, meant that Jones, like many others, left the game before it ended. Still, she said the homecoming was worth it, despite the controversy.

“All in all I did have a great time. I think the RSU did their best to make it feel like a Ryerson event,” she said, mentioning the presence of Eggy, the school’s mascot, and the kick for tuition challenge.

“I would still go again, even it if wasn’t held at Ryerson. But I just would prefer if it was [there],” she said.

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