WATERLOO REGION — The sad state of Ontario university football has left two of the conference's founding fathers heartsick and calling for a withdrawal from the game's Canadian sports federation.
A lack of parity and escalating operating costs mean league doormats — like the University of Waterloo — might consider mothballing their football teams unless drastic measures are taken, say Tuffy Knight and Rich Newbrough.
"When I see the state of the football program at Waterloo, hell, it almost makes me cry," said Knight, a Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductee and former coach at both Wilfrid Laurier and Waterloo.
"I'm so disappointed it has come to this point," said Newbrough, Knight's West Virginian sidekick who stepped out of his former boss's shadow to lead Laurier to a Vanier Cup in 1991.
"If no action is taken, some football teams will fold," added Newbrough, who like Knight, lives in Kitchener.
Cringe-worthy headlines throughout the Ontario University Athletics football league in 2013 revealed a mounting crisis, they say.
Sixty-six per cent of the 11-team league's regular-season games last season were decided by more than three touchdowns.
The authors of those smackdowns were free-spending teams from Western, Queen's and Guelph.
Also-ran teams like Waterloo, Windsor, York and Toronto can't keep pace with the fat-cat schools that spend wads of cash to achieve football competitiveness, they said.
Even Laurier's once-infallible football Hawks, which finished a dismal 1-7 last year, have been left in the dust by teams with deeper pockets.
Withdrawing Ontario's football teams from the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) federation would help address the blowouts, said Newbrough, WLU's head football coach from 1984 to 1993.
He said the departure would eliminate the need for Ontario programs to emulate the business model of Quebec football powerhouse, Laval, and its million-dollar budget.
The move would also save money on CIS membership fees, he said.
Additionally, leaving the CIS would mean more revenue because the number of regular-season games in the OUA could be increased from eight to 10, with reduced travel costs, Newbrough said.
"The big time — OUA football — is right here in front of us," added Newbrough, also Laurier's former longtime athletic director. "I don't think (university administrators) recognize it."
Both former coaches suggested the Ontario championship, the Yates Cup, could be contested at Toronto's Rogers Centre annually, promoted like a national championship, with big crowds providing plenty of revenue.
A lack of parity and rising costs in OUA football will be discussed by athletic directors at the conference's annual general meeting in Gravenhurst on Monday.
OUA football league convener and Laurier athletic director Peter Baxter has said he favours introducing caps on teams' budgets, roster sizes, coaching staffs and number of recruits.
"There are a lot of schools in Ontario who wonder if we should take away a student's opportunity to compete at a national championship," Baxter said of Newbrough's and Knight's suggestion the OUA should withdraw its football teams from CIS play.
Meanwhile, UW's senior administration has repeatedly stated its intent to field a football team now and in the future.
But Knight said the school isn't inspiring confidence because it is currently without both an athletic director and a permanent head football coach.
Knight, who turns 78 later this month, said he recently declined UW's invitation to help rebuild the fledgling Warriors, a team which hasn't qualified for the playoffs in a decade.
He overhauled the Warriors before, leading Waterloo to its first Yates Cup championship in 1997. Knight was the winningest coach in Canadian university football history (153 wins) when UW fired him 17 years ago.
Knight, who has battled some health problems, said he no longer has the energy for the job.