Special Events Conference & Annual Meeting



The 2019 U SPORTS Conference and Annual Meeting kicks off Monday, June 3 at the Hilton Toronto Markham where athletic directors from all 56 member schools and representatives of the four conferences will gather for three days to hear from notable keynote speakers, receive important updates from the national office and have the opportunity to network with their peers. The attendees will also have access to the sold-out U SPORTS University Athletics Tradeshow where near 50 vendors will be represented.

With the conference less than a week way, USPORTS introduces you each day to our keynote speakers slated to address the membership:

Read about our Guest Speakers here.

Day 1 – Monday, June 3

The 2019 U SPORTS Conference and Annual Meeting kicked off in style Monday night with the U SPORTS Honours Awards Gala, celebrating those who have helped develop and grow university sports in Canada throughout their careers.

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Legendary Saskatchewan football coach Brian Towriss (Jean-Marie De Koninck Coaching Excellence Award), Guelph-based reporter Rob Massey (Fred Sgambati Media Award), and Queen’s University Manager of Interuniversity Sport Janean Sergeant (Austin-Matthews Award) were honoured at the Hilton Markham / Toronto Suites and Conference Centre.

The opening day was also highlighted a pair of keynote speakers. Lorraine Lafrenière, CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada addressed the membership on empowerment of our student-athletes through coaching and safe sport.

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“What happens through sport can prepare people for the unanticipated. It is the perfect training ground for the unanticipated, the unexpected, the resiliency in how you respond to those experiences. So if there was ever a moment of doubt…know that what you do makes a difference in the lives of every person who faces adversity and creates a better opportunity for them to be resilient and to contribute and to continue to be a better part of Canada.”

Earlier in the day, Chris Overholt, CEO of OverActive Media, took the stage to discuss the growing industry of eSports, which topped $1 billion for the first time in February 2018. After serving seven years as CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Overholt took on a new challenge in bringing the industry to Canada through an integrated company with seven international eSports teams. That global eSports stable includes the Toronto Defiant, who will compete in the Overwatch league and a UK-based franchise in the vastly popular League of Legends European Championship.

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“eSports is an industry growing at an accelerated pace next to the NBA, NFL, NHL, and on a trajectory to eclipse those major leagues over the next 10-15 years,” said Overholt. “There is a monster demographic between the ages of 18-25 who simply do not consume media and do not consume sport the same way that many in this room, and myself did growing up."

Monday’s key U SPORTS Presentations included President and CEO Graham Brown, and Chief Operating Officer David Goldstein introducing the membership to the new four-year strategic plan that will guide the organization into the future, the Governance Review undertaken by the organization over the past year, as well as key successes and learnings through the transition from CIS to U SPORTS since 2016.

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The new Stategic Plan outlines the Vision, Mission, and Values of the organization, the Operating Principles that inform its day-to-day work, and the Strategic Priorities and Key Initiatives that will help move Canadian university sports forward.

“We’re an evolving organization that isn’t just isolated to what we do in one year – it’s one year building on the next year, building on the next year,” said Brown. “Hopefully, we’ve built enough foundational projects and have them in place in order to continue to help us to make the right decisions.”

Day 2 – Tuesday, June 4

Tuesday was highlighted by two keynote speakers, including a presentation delivered exclusively in French.

Veronique Dubois, the Director of Programming at TVA – U SPORTS’ official French-language football broadcaster – gave a presentation titled Marketing and Promoting University Sports: Unique Lessons from Quebec. During her address, Dubois described how TVA is able to highlight the talent of U SPORTS student-athletes through unique storytelling, by emphasizing the emotion and journey of the players, over their performance.

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“TVA covers U SPORTS Football the same (way) as the NHL or MLS. We don’t want to be just a broadcaster,” said Dubois. “We want to contribute to the growth and development on both sides. This partnership is built on a win-win relationship.”

In the afternoon, Marie-Claude Asselin and Eleni Siganos, of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC), spoke about the Disciplinary Process, describing their experiences in dispute resolution, and how U SPORTS members can better implement and enforce a code of conduct. Specifically, Asselin and Sigano examined how to navigate a school’s code of conduct, and how to ethically and properly enforce it, while respecting the student-athlete.

"The code of conduct should be translating the values that are defined in your code of ethics into what this means in terms of behaviour,” said Asselin.


U SPORTS members also had the opportunity to network with potential new business partners that could help grow or enhance their respective athletic programs during the U SPORTS Supplier and Business Tradeshow. Almost 50 vendors took part, taking time to share their products with athletic directors and varsity staff of all 56 schools and four conferences across the country.

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As part of the tradeshow, a renewed partnership with Wilson was announced, continuing as the official football and basketball supplier of U SPORTS for the next four years. Wilson has supplied the Bowl Games, Vanier Cup and Final 8 national championships for over 20 years.

In U SPORTS presentations, the framework for a new sport model was presented, while the concept of a potential new eligibility verification process was brought forward. Both sessions included breakouts for the membership to discuss these important topics in smaller groups.

The framework of the Sport Model includes criteria, key performance indicators and a National Sport Organization (NSO) application process for the addition of new sports, and process for identifying the target sports to be added and/or reclassified within three years of being implemented.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 5

The third and final day of the conference portion featured keynotespeaker Thomas Hall from the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC). In his current role, Hall Serves as National Manager of Game Plan.

Hall’s presentation titled Preparing Student Athletes for Life After Sport, focused on promoting athlete wellness - how to treat athletes with respect to their physical and mental health, and providing them a transition plan following their careers.

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“Part of athlete wellness is changing how we perceive athletes and how we treat athletes,” said Hall. “Currently, in the Canadian sport system at large, we treat athletes as a special category, and by treating them as special, we make them vulnerable…people's lives are at stake, if we don't actually fundamentally change how we're doing this."

The membership also heard from Mitch Thompson, who delivered key updates on the ongoing work of IMG to build and execute a national sponsorship strategy for university sports in Canada. In addition to aggregating rights across the U SPORTS network, IMG is also developing sponsorship opportunities for U SPORTS and conference championships, as well as member school assets including recreation centres, intramural programs and varsity sports.

“We can’t at the national office with IMG and U SPORTS operate in isolation for any of this,” said Thompson. “We have to always be engaging the broader network, whether that’s conferences, universities, host committees…there’s that constant layer of stakeholder engagement that’s a part of this whole spectacle.”

In U SPORTS Presentations, details and updates on the organization’s new Transgender Policy announced in September was led by a panel discussion of Dr.Debra Kriger and Beth Ali (University of Toronto), Danika Smith (University of Ottawa) and Martine Leblanc (Université de Montréal). The Policy, which permits student-athletes to participate in U SPORTS competition based on the gender as which they identify, is among the most progressive and inclusive transgender policies in high-level sport.

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"Their world is full of doors and barriers,” said Ali, U of T’s Executive Director of Co-Curricular Athletics and Physical Activity Programs.“They need a place where they can feel like a varsity athlete...or a participant in one of our programs."

Additional U SPORTS presentations included breakouts on Athletic Financial Award policies and National Championship principles (formats, berth and seeding, ranking systems), as well as updates on the current landscape of national statistics.

The festivities wrap up on Thursday with the Annual Meeting of the membership.  

DAY 4 - Thursday June 6

As the week drew to a close, two final keynote speakers headlined Thursday’s Annual Meeting proceedings, beginning with Dr. Greg Wells opening the 2019 Annual Meeting of the membership.

Wells, a health and Performance Physiologist and Best-Selling Author has dedicated his career to making the science of human limits understandable and actionable by working with some of the highest-performing individuals on the planet including Olympic and World champions.

Wells spoke about the five keys to building healthy high-performance teams, including clarity of vision, psychological safety, dependability, meaning and impact, adding these factors also positively contribute to one’s mental health.

“When teams have absolute clarity of vision, then sport departments within universities have absolute clarity of vision,” said Dr. Wells in reference to one of the five keys. “And they're going to achieve great things and unlock new possibilities.”

The final guest speaker of the event was Alberto Ruiz Luca de Tena, founder of Angles in Sport, who led the members in an activity called the Napkin Exercise. The activity featured a self-reflection of eight questions and one piece of paper and pen for each delegate, unfolding the value chain in sport as well as three themes for leadership in sport: leading organizations, leading others and leading self.

In the final U SPORTS presentation, President and CEO Graham Brown gave the members an update on the national office’s broadcast strategy, discussing The Future of Televised Canadian University Sports following the conclusion of recent six-year Sportsnet partnership. Brown reinforced the importance of U SPORTS competition continue to hav broadcast exposure.

“I still believe television is still a great vehicle for (U SPORTS) – it validates what we do,” said Brown. “Sport might be the last little frontier of television that really relies on live. Very few people will watch or get excited about a tape delay.”

The festivities on Thursday also featured the official Annual Meeting of all 56 members, as well as a U SPORTS Board of Directors meeting. Click here for a full recap.