No regrets for Bishop's Gaiters after leaving Quebec conference

Management and players with Bishop's University's football team say spirits are high within the Gaiters' ranks, despite a string of losses after joining their new conference, the Atlantic University Sports (AUS).

More learning opportunities, better team spirit with AUS conference, says team management

The Bishop's Gaiters announced last Dec. they were done with playing in the RSEQ conference and were moving to the Atlantic University Sports (AUS) conference. (CBC)

Management, players and fans of the football team at Bishop's University seem to agree that joining the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) conference was the right thing to do.

The Gaiters have lost five out of six games so far this season, but the acting athletics director said games are tighter and the team is now competing on a more level playing field.

​"We'd like to win more football games and we will, but at the end of the day it's about our student athletes having a great experience," said Matt McBrine.

When Bishop's announced it was leaving the Réseau du Sport Étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) to join the AUS conference in December 2016, it was big news on the athletic front.

After nearly a century of purple pride, Bishop's football program was threatened and a decision had to be made, said McBrine.
The Bishop's Gaiters going up against the St. Francis Xavier University on Sept. 23, 2017. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

"In the last 20 years, we only had three winning seasons,'' said McBrine.​

David versus Goliath

Teams like Laval University's Rouge et Or and the Montréal Carabins have a higher student population to draw from and can offer scholarships that Bishop's simply can't afford, said McBrine.

''The football program at Bishop's is roughly $350,000," he said. "Most of the other programs in Quebec, it's north of $1 million."

The athletics director at Laval University, Christian Gagnon, admitted the way things are done now is not ideal, even though his team has won nine Vanier cups in the last 20 years.

Gagnon said athletic directors from all universities in Eastern Canada will meet in the next year and discuss how to increase competitiveness and create opportunities for smaller universities to play against larger ones.

''One day maybe we'll have a big eight conference, but if we do we have to find money for all universities,'' said Gagnon.

Fans, players on board

The Gaiters charter a plane to fly east for half their games while other opposing teams head to Lennoxville, Que. by bus once in the season.

Quarterback Mathieu Demers said the team is adapting.

"The team spirit, the culture, everything has changed and everybody is getting into it,'' Demers said, during the homecoming game against St. Francis Xavier University.
Fans getting ready to cheer on the Gaiters at the homecoming game on Sept. 23, 2017. (Rebecca Martel/CBC)

''For sure we'd like to be better but it's football and now we have to focus on the second part of the season."

Fans at the game, which finished with a score of 37-27 in favour of St. FX, told CBC News the games are more fun to watch and give players the chance to grow and learn.

Despite the last few losses, McBrine agreed. 

"This whole notion of fair play and collegiality and level playing field, that is exactly what is happening right now in the AUS football and that's great.''

With files from Rebecca Martel