Some interesting news [CanadaWest.org] came out of the Canada West annual general meeting in Victoria Thursday. The conference decided to admit UBC-Okanagan [Howard Tsumura, The Province] as a probationary member* starting in 2010, with the school's teams (the Heat) beginning conference play in men's and women's basketball and volleyball in 2011. However, the applications of Vancouver Island University and the University of Northern British Columbia didn't receive the required 75 per cent level of support, so those schools will not be heading into Canada West any time soon.
*Speaking of probationary status, the meeting also saw that tag lifted [Dan Kinvig, Abbotsford News] for the University of the Fraser Valley and Thompson Rivers University. This makes plenty of sense, as Thompson Rivers has been probationary for five years and UFV has had that designation for four years. In fact, it's a little surprising that hasn't been lifted sooner. UFV is still trying to make an impact at the CIS level, but Thompson Rivers has already found a lot of success, particularly in men's volleyball; they won bronze at the 2008 national championships, finished sixth in 2009 and did a great job of hosting the championships this year, where they also finished sixth.
The addition of UBC-O isn't quite a done deal, though. As that release points out, UBC-O's Canada West status is conditional upon CIS approval. That won't be discussed until the CIS annual general meeting in 2011. It seems unlikely that this would be shot down at that stage, though, considering that UBC-O will likely already be gearing up for CIS competition by that time, and there isn't really a compelling reason for universities from the rest of Canada to tell Canada West who would or wouldn't be a good member of their conference.
If there ever was going to be a case where other institutions might have concerns about a new member, this could be one, though. As I pointed out in my 2008 piece looking at the Canada West expansion candidates, UBC Okanagan is a rather unique school; it's essentially a regular college or small university that became a satellite campus of UBC in 2004 via "hostile takeover". UBC-O has a separate senate than UBC, but both share a common board of governors. That could lead to concerns about their athletic independence along the lines of the ones various people have raised around David Braley's involvement with [Sporting Madness] (and current ownership of [CBC.ca]) two CFL franchises, the Toronto Argonauts and the B.C. Lions.
As in the CFL case, there probably isn't too much to be worried about here. Common ownership does not equal collaboration between teams, especially because both CFL owners and university boards of governors usually don't have too much to do with on-field issues. The perception of a conflict of interest could be damaging, though, especially from a boardroom perspective; some might see this as giving UBC two voices and votes at the CIS table.
The other thing that could make this interesting is the ongoing debate at UBC around the NCAA. If the main campus athletics department decides to follow SFU south, that would leave the overall institution with one team in CIS and one in the NCAA. That might leave a bad taste in the mouths of some CIS schools, given the emotions that the NCAA debate has stirred up. It also could be seen as UBC trying to have its cake and eat it too, which might alienate some people.
On the other hand, there are many things to recommend UBC-Okanagan; they give Canada West a larger presence in the B.C. Interior, they already have a strong athletics tradition at the college level, and they'll have a great rivalry with Thompson Rivers University over in Kamloops. They also have the potential to perhaps eventually play football, possibly via an affiliation with the local junior team, the Okanagan Sun. Furthermore, the Kelowna area has almost 200,000 people, which is a pretty nice addition for CIS.
It is somewhat surprising to me that the other schools didn't make the cut, though. As I laid out in the 2008 piece, UNBC's bid looked like the most attractive one thanks to its long history at the university level, Prince George's existing support for university sports (the UNBC Cougars were regularly drawing 700 fans for women's basketball and 1,000 for men's back in 2008, way better than many CIS schools) and the advantages of a CIS presence in Northern B.C. However, they were probably hurt by their bid focusing on just two teams (men's and women's basketball) and by their geographic isolation, which would have resulted in significant travel costs. VIU, like UBC-O, applied for full membership, but they're a relatively recent university and may have faced some funding challenges. They would have given UVic a natural travel partner though, and expanded the CIS presence on Vancouver Island. All three bids had their own collections of strengths and weaknesses, so it is somewhat surprising to see UBC-O make the cut and the others be rejected.