From The Middle of Nowhere: What's in a name? Plenty

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Juliet: Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
Ill-fated lovers aside, this famous quote got me mulling on CIS terminology; specifically how sports information departments and the media in Canada label and identify the eligibility year of a Canadian student-athlete.

Looking at various school websites; you can see that some schools don't use any specific words to describe eligibility. Others say rookie, first year, second year, third year, fourth year, and fifth year. There has been a movement in the past few years by some schools to use modified American terminology such as freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, and fifth-year senior. Even here, there have been differences as one school uses fourth-year senior and fifth-year senior as designations.

I think it is way past high time that the CIS mandate a uniform way of designating the eligibility years of its athletes and get rid of this confusion. I think it would be a simple thing for the CIS to do; and one that wouldn’t need a wait until their Annual General Meeting held each summer.

I prefer the use of American collegiate terminology (with some fix for the fact that CIS has fifth-year athletes such as fifth-year senior) as I think it is understood very well by Canadians who have grown up watching NCAA sports and it is clear in their minds that this terminology means university student-athletes.

Many would consider this is a trivial point, but I would beg to differ. Canadian Interuniversity Sport is still looking for a way to get out of the media wilderness in this country and one small way is to have a consistent and uniform way of naming its athletes. This consistency would bring familiarity to the media and fans and also stress the distinctiveness of the university athletein Canada and especially make CIS distinctive from the general hockey culture that is pervasive in this country.

It would be just one small step of the many that are needed to be done by the CIS and its member schools. But from small things, big things one day come.

(Mike Aylward was sports information director at Lakehead University for eight years. This is the first of his new opinion column on things CIS.)
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  1. Interesting stuff, Mike. It's an issue that I've never really heard discussed, but it's a good one to look at, and standardization among schools might be helpful. Personally, I prefer just using first-year, second-year, etc, as it allows for easy differentiation of fifth-year athletes and it's simpler. It might be easier to understand as well; not everyone who follows CIS sports likes NCAA sports or pays close attention to their terminology.

  2. I for one don't want to mimic NCAA-speak ... why try to sound more American? Besides, I'm forever mixing up sophomores and juniors, and it is not a vernacular that is normally used within Canadian universities. First-year, second-year, etc. is nice and clear, especially as there are several five-year degree programs and CIS student-athletes have five years of eligibility makes "senior" difficult. Besides, NCAA student athletes only have four years of eligibility (granted that it can be spread over five years which is why red-shirting is an official process there and just an expression here).

  3. I'm pretty sure the OUA standardized what information team's were supposed to display on their website several years ago. That being Elig Year indicating the number of years consumed including the current year.

  4. @Anon: I don't think he's talking about the information on the roster, as that's standard and numerical, but rather how sports information directors refer to players in their recaps.

  5. Hi Andrew,

    Yes, was talking about usage by league, conferences, schools, and by media...whichever way...just standardize it...

    Mike Aylward

  6. Personally, I like using freshman and "fifth-year senior." In between, I tend not to use them as much, if only since there's not a ton of difference between a sophomore and junior.

    In hockey, calling a 21-year-old who played in the ECHL a freshman seems weird. The coaches also tend to say "rookie."

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  8. A few points:

    1. This is so ridiculously trivial that any time spent on this is, by definition, wasted. I don't think I'm speaking out of turn by saying that there are bigger issues for CIS to deal with than what to call a third-year athlete.

    2. There is a difference between the Canadian and American systems that this post ignores. That is that the terms "freshman, sophomore, junior and senior" are used throughout the U.S. educational system, in both the academic and the non-academic context. It's that fact, as much as anything else, that allows those terms to resonate with the American public. Everybody in the U.S. has been a freshman.

    That is not the case in this country. Students here are generally referred to by the academic year they are in.

    3. As far as I can tell, there is a high degree of standardization. Athletes are generally referred to by their year of eligibility.

    4. The terms are not universally recognized in this country - especially "Junior" as referring to a third-year player. There is enough Junior Hockey, Junior Football and Junior who-knows-what-else in this country that the term can easily become confusing. If I talk about a Junior Wide Receiver, does that mean he's in his third year, or that he played for the Saskatoon Hilltops? Both are possible, so that's a question I'm not going to waste my time with. It would be worse if I started talking about hockey players.

    5. The NCAA isn't necessarily finding the terms descriptive enough, either, which is why the modifiers "Redshirt" and "5th-year" (among others) have cropped up.

    6. Is a fourth-year player really a Senior, if he intends to return for his fifth season?

    7. Care to translate those terms into French?

    8. The term "rookie" for a first-year player is already in widespread use across sports in this country, and is often more descriptive. If a player comes in with a year or two of eligibility already used, he's still a rookie in the league, even though he's officially a "2nd-year" or "3rd-year" player.

    8. Standardizing the media is roughly akin to herding cats. If you want to do that, talk to CP. And good luck. (How many people still write about "Tier II" hockey, even though that hasn't officially existed since the 1970s?)

    As for me, I tend to use "rookie" for a first-year player. I'll use "redshirt freshman" for a player (generally in football) who is playing after having sat out for a year. I'm taking a risk with the latter, hoping that the US usage of the term makes it understandable.

    I'll throw in the occasional reference to a "sophomore" for a second-year player. I tend to just go to "veteran" for fourth and fifth-year players, since calling someone more than 10 years younger than me a "senior" makes me feel old. :-)

    I would never use the word "junior" to describe a player. I don't think the connection (Jr = 3rd year) is there.

    All that being said (and thanks for giving me something to do before my rugby game tonight), what is gained by the CIS deciding that athletes' years are to be referred to in one way or another?

    If the CIS really tried to ban the term "sophomore", would anyone actually pay attention? Would there be fines? Hardly.

    SIDs and writers will continue to use the terms they prefer. Instead, the more likely result of such an edict is another snide Steve Simmons drive-by.