Pierre Lafontaine quits as CIS CEO after only 2 years on job, in latest setback for Canadian university sports

Neate Sager
Lafontaine was hired by CIS in January 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Lafontaine was hired by CIS in January 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Believe what you like; Pierre Lafontaine is not the type to just up and quit abruptly.

The continuing vicious cycle that Canadian Interuniversity Sport cannot get out of — an outfit that's too big to manage and thus stays too small-time to nab that casual sports fan dollar that Sportsnet and TSN, et al., are after — basically claimed another victim. Two years ago, CIS believed it had "scored big" by luring Lafontaine away from the world of swimming, where he had great success with the national federations in Australia and Canada. Now, two weeks short of the two-year anniversary of his hire, sources state that Lafontaine has been bought out, with his resignation taking effect immediately. That decision by CIS was finalized after a conference call on Jan. 14, where the other issue was expanded interlock play in football

The long and short of it? Someone hired as a reformer proved not long for this position, which raises the question of what chance there is that any other reform-minded, big-picture type will want any part of leading CIS.


For all that is wonderful and unique about university sports, beneath that veneer of the true student-athlete experience is the reality that there's not just reluctance to change, but there is not even acknowledgement that anything should change. Outside of a handful of larger schools in Ontario and the Canada West conference, there is by and large contentment with remaining humble and niche. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that; it ultimately dooms university sports to irrelevance in the eyes of major media portals that have decided that something being stamped Canadian doesn't mean it should automatically be developed as a TV property.

The biggest issue seems to be that on the whole, the entire operation is constituionally and procedurally constipated.

Lafontaine's arrival came right before CIS inked a six-year media deal with Sportsnet, which like most TV contracts that give networks exclusivity (something the NFL and NCAA would never do), has been a step backwards. Sportsnet's audience for the past two Vanier Cup telecasts were all smaller than what TSN drew each year from 2009-12, although the game's appeal is often predicated on whether an Ontario team with a relatively big following is competing.

By no means is this a 100 per cent defence of Lafontaine. Being unable to keep all the actors happy is one thing, while it's also plausible that someone coming over from the amateur sports stream would have trouble grasping the culture in CIS, where football is the alpha dog.

On his watch, the CIS streamlined its byzantine inner workings. Lafontaine also had a hand in the creation of Super Championship Weekend, where the four national championships in basketball and hockey will be played concurrently in order to put all the university sport-loving eggs in one viewership basket. Done well, it could be very good, although it could also come off as a way for Sportsnet to get away with only one weekend of coverage instead of three.  

Lafontaine will not be around come the second week in March, when basketball banners and hockey hardware will be on the line in Toronto, Quebec City, Calgary and Halifax. The scope of having all that take place in four distinct parts of Canada, and getting everyone to agree to do it, was a major feat. 

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.