'Could not compete': Why the Uteck Bowl's final score was so lopsided

Veteran sports journalist Alex J. Walling says the Atlantic conference teams overall lack the number of coaches needed, have weakened recruiting efforts and are spending less money on programs.

Veteran sports journalist says lack of money, weakened recruiting efforts played a role

Western Mustangs running back Cedric Joseph runs for a touchdown against the Acadian Axemen during Uteck Bowl football action at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (Ted Pritchard/Canadian Press)

The reason why the final score in this past weekend's Uteck Bowl was so lopsided — with the Western University Mustangs steamrolling the Acadia University Axemen 81-3 — is because the Atlantic conference isn't spending the same kind of money on football as other places, according to a veteran sports journalist.

"Coaching — they don't have enough. They don't pay their assistant coaches, there are not as many. Recruiting — we no longer recruit the way we did back in the halcyon days of Saint Mary's. And money spent on programs," Alex J. Walling told CBC Radio's Mainstreet. "In a nutshell, those are the three main reasons."

Walling said there is a chasm between what universities out west pay their coaches compared to what they're paid in Atlantic Canada. He said top football university coaches are making more than $100,000 a year.

Money makes a difference

"I know that Laval University was paying their head coach $160,000 … and he has around six to eight full-time assistants that are well-paid," said Walling.

"That's a program that is privately funded by the grace of the university and they average, on some games, 18,000 people."

The Western Mustangs celebrate their 81-3 win over the Acadia Axemen on Saturday to advance to the Vanier Cup. (Ted Pritchard/The Canadian Press)

Walling said there was a time when Atlantic Canadian university football teams could win national championships.

Saint Mary's University won the Vanier Cup, Canadian university football's top prize, in 2001 and 2002. But Walling said Saint Mary's was the exception to the Atlantic conference.

"Saint Mary's was strong. They were the most powerful team in Canada, the only team ever to beat Laval twice in a row. They were strong. The rest of the conference was not and I think we lived off that," said Walling.

Extra money in the football programs allowed for better recruiting efforts, Walling said.

Saint Mary's Huskies' DeAndre Smith throws a pass against the Acadia Axemen in the Loney Bowl at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S., on Tuesday, November 14, 2017. (Ted Pritchard/The Canadian Press)

Walling said about 15 years ago, some of the best university football players from Ontario got recruited to play in Atlantic Canada because "Ontario did not offer any kind of financial aid."

"They came down here. They had that, plus great coaching at Saint Mary's. That no longer exists," said Walling.

A possible solution, according to Walling, would be to create a tier system where only Canada's top teams would compete for the Vanier Cup.

"We are now an embarrassment. Across this country on Saturday there were four teams. Three of them competed. One simply could not compete and that's pretty bad," said Walling.

'Arms race' for better players

While Phil Currie, the executive director of Atlantic University Sport, agreed there is not a level playing field in university football, he doesn't think having tiers is the answer.

"Tiering, I would think, would not be a good thing for university sport football, at all. We only have 27 teams in the country. To tier 27 teams and have an elite league is totally against the spirit of university sport," said Currie.

Privatization and professionalism started to come into play about 13 years ago and it "changed the landscape considerably," Currie said, adding the system is "somewhat broken" at the moment.

"The football members of Atlantic University Sport, they don't want to enter into an arms race. Budgets aren't big enough, all those kinds of things. And there is an arms race at the top level in university sport," said Currie.

"Those budgets keep increasing so much more annually. Many schools in the country are not in a position to do that."

With files from CBC Radio's Mainstreet and Paul Legere